Germany returns stolen church artifacts to Cyprus

TENSIONS WERE high on a strip of the buffer zone dissecting the capital yesterday after a police raid the night before resulted in 28 arrests, including 11 minors, numerous claims of police brutality and human rights violations.

A strong police force spearheaded by the anti-terrorist unit (MMAD) and the drugs squad raided a building on the corner of Nicosia’s Ledra and Kykkos streets on Friday night at around 10.15pm.

The building stands between two checkpoints straddling the buffer zone along Ledra Street, and became the makeshift home to a multi-communal peace movement called Occupy Buffer Zone which has been camped at the site since last November.

The group’s “occupation” of the buffer zone has resulted in forming rare consensus among the three forces on the ground, Cyprus police, the Turkish army and the UN, over the unsuitability of their choice of location.

Cypriot police claim they have received reports that the activists are bothering passersby, and creating a general mess.  Previous efforts to move them, formally and informally, by the UN and Cypriot police have proved unsuccessful.   

Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said yesterday police acted based on a search warrant after information that drugs were in the building which, he argued, the peace activists had illegally broken into.  

He could not say whether the owner of the building, the Bishop of Kykkos Nikiforos, had complained to police about the alleged illegal occupation prior to the operation.   

According to Angelides, 22 arrests were made for illegal entry into the building, from which 11 were minors aged 16 and 17.

In addition, two men, a 28-year-old Greek Cypriot and 30-year-old Turkish Cypriot, were charged with resisting arrest and possession of one gramme of cannabis.

A 24-year-old foreign woman was arrested for attacking an officer, while two 26-year-old men and a 19-year-old male were held for obstructing the work of police.

A 52-year-old British man who police say was drunk at the time of the raid fell from the second floor trying to escape. He is currently undergoing treatment at Nicosia general hospital after suffering bone fractures to his body.

Asked to comment on complaints of excessive force and sexual assault by one 19-year-old girl, Angelides maintained that no claims of brutality have been filed. He added that police used “proportionate force to enter the building”.  

Turkish Cypriot press yesterday reported that the police raid took place in the buffer zone but UN spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux responded that the UN was not involved in the operation, since the largest part of the building is situated in the free areas.

“In reality, the incident did not take place in the buffer zone,” he said.

Plain-clothed Turkish Cypriot officers in the buffer zone yesterday told the Sunday Mail that they had no idea the raid was going to take place.

Speaking to a number of eyewitnesses on site yesterday, the Sunday Mail was told that police armed with shields, helmets and weapons entered the building using “indiscriminate force” on anyone present, including minors.

One 16-year-old said she saw police hitting a 24-year-old woman, causing a massive bump to her forehead, as well as multiple cuts and bruises.   

The police took those in the building to the roof were they made them sit down for up to 45 minutes before taking them to Paphos Gate police station, she said. A few hours later, they were released.

Another 19-year-old woman said when police knocked a door down, it hit her on the leg. She was then carried up to the roof by two police men wearing gloves who allegedly sexually assaulted her.

“They touched me everywhere,” she said.

Speaking to a passing officer yesterday, the same teenager cried: “For what your colleagues did to me and other children last night you should be ashamed of yourselves and quit. I’m talking to you as a daughter.

 Another eyewitness, Chalarambos Rossides, 28, said: “There were police, firemen, ambulances, and cages for the arrested. Police were holding teenagers tightly by their arms as if they were the biggest criminals. The whole operation was conducted as if they were about to execute the biggest drug operation in the world, and for what, half a gramme?”

The Turkish Cypriot arrested for alleged drug possession, Ahmet Elmas, told the paper he went to the building to pick up some items when police barged in, shouting at him and his Greek Cypriot friend. When they learnt that he was Turkish Cypriot one police man allegedly hit him with a baton on the back of his head and then on his mouth, which showed signs of blue and red bruising yesterday.

“I am a musician. I cannot play saxophone for months now,” he said.

They also kicked him in the chest while he was on the floor on his knees and handcuffed, he charged.

Elmas said police repeatedly tried to make him confess to owning the gramme of cannabis, which he refused to do, saying it was not his.  

“When I opened the case to my base clarinet to show them there were no drugs, only musical instruments, one policeman grabbed it and smashed it to pieces on the floor. It cost me €1,000.”

Lawyer Michalis Paraskevas who was also present questioned the legality of the operation, since he had been told personally by the Kykkos Bishop last December that he had made no complaint regarding the building.  

“Illegal entry on its own is not a criminal offence,” he said, arguing that one must enter with intent to commit a crime.  

Legal expert at the University of Nicosia. Nicos Trimikliniotis, said having spoken to a number of people arrested, he believed that police committed “a series of human rights violations”, including unlawful use of force. Police did not inform people why they were being detained, he added.

Source: Cyprus-Mail

By Stefanos Evripidou

Published on April 8, 2012

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