Cops On The Beat ('em Up)
Why the Cyprus Police Lashes Out
"A few shameless transgressors of duty cannot and should not be allowed to mar the good name and the commendable action record of the whole of the Police Force", president Papadopoulos stated last Sunday during a speech at the confirmation ceremony for the President and Members of the Independent Investigating Authority for Complaints and Allegations against the Police.
This has been the historically constant public position of all governments of Cyprus, every time they were faced with incidents such as that of the beating of two students on December 20th 2005. The various Ministers of Justice and Public Order, as well as the Police hierarchy, maintain that the Force is a healthy tree with just a few rotten branches, which they promise to prune so that the Police can continue to fulfil its social mission unimpeded.
The Fifteen Year Itch
Yet the reality is quite different. Cyprus and its Police Force have been under observation by the Council of Europe for almost fifteen years. During this time, all governments promised to "prune the rotten branches", but failed to sanitise the Police Force because the rot has set in at the roots, and not the branches. No government has acknowledged the problem so us to uproot the tree of evil and plant a new one in its place.
Governments, according to the era, used the police for every kind of dirty business, from political nepotism within the force itself, through influencing citizens during elections, right up to committing murders on demand.
The current government's decision to create the Independent Investigating Authority for Complaints and Allegations against the Police confirms the failure of all previous measures taken to contain abuses of authority. These measures had been taken after pressure was exerted by the Council of Europe:
- On June 17th 1993 the Cyprus government received a report by the Council of Europe about abuse of citizens by the Police. The report was compiled after investigation by the Human Rights Commitee in Cyprus.
- In 1996, the Council of Europe prepared a new report concluding that the situation remained unchanged. Under European pressure, the Council of Ministers decided to cede its authority of appointing criminal enquirers, who would investigate abuse complaints, to the Attorney General.
- In 2000, a delegation of the Council of Europe visited Cyprus and confirmed that the decision on the appointment of criminal enquirers by the Attorney General had not been implemented, and that the situation continued unchanged.
- In 2001, the 1996 decision was finally implemented and the Attorney General finally obtained the authority to appoint criminal enquirers.
- In 2003, Human Rights Commissioner of the European Council, Alvaro Roples, published a new report, painting a very bleak picture indeed: He reported that the abuse bordered on torture, with punches, kicks, electical shocks and mock executions. Foreigners who had come to Cyprus had been added to the list of abuse victims.
- In February 2006, again under pressure from Europe, Parliament passed the law which was finally put into effect on Friday, on the formation of an Independent Investigating Authority for Complaints and Allegations against the Police.
The Commitee will be judged by its actions. But the fact that its president is a party functionary (Yiannakis Agapiou of AKEL) and that human rights protection activists are absent from its makeup, does not concur with the government's assertions that the commitee will decisively combat Police abuses.
The Cyprus Police Force has its origins in the British Colonial era. The British needed a suppression mechanism to keep the colony of Cyprus under control. With the beginning of the EOKA struggle, Grivas tried to disorganise the police and disrupt its effectiveness. Among the first decisions he took were the assassinations of police officers, to undermine the morale of the force.
The climate that was created in Greek Cypriot society, which painted the police force as the iron gauntlet of the colonial regime, forced many Greek Cypriot policemen to resign. On the other hand, the British came to rely more and more on Turkish Cypriot policemen to man the force, while the officers were British professionals.
With the end of the EOKA struggle and the establishment of the Repubic of Cyprus, a vacuum was observed: the British professional police officers departed, while there was a surplus of Turkish Cypriot policemen in comparison with Greek Cypriots.
To complete the hierarchy, the then young government of the Republic of Cyprus, distributed all the vacancies without training and without qualifications, to policemen already serving, and to those who had resigned to join EOKA. First Tassos Papadopoulos, as Minister of the Interior of the transitional government of 1959, and then Polycarpos Georkadjis who succeeded him in that post, in co-operation with Makarios, defined the hierarchy of the police and placed their own people in key positions.
The way its hierarchy was set up is the original sin of the Cyprus Police Force, because:
- People without qualifications were loaded with stripes and stars of rank.
- Hundreds of policemen were hired on political criteria alone.
- The police was not reformed as a corps which would serve a state of law, but as a personal army, owing absolute allegiance to their political chief, Minister of the Interior Polycarpos Georkadjis.
- Other autonomous personalities among the ranks of former EOKA fighters, who were Georkadjis' rivals, such as Nicos Sampson, also exerted considerable influence within the Force.
Murders Then and Now
In Nicosia Central Prison, a group of policemen are serving sentences for a series of murders which took place in the 1990's in Limassol. Victims were members of the Aeroporos family and their associates.
As was revealed, the murders were the result of organised crime gang warfare in Limassol, though they had been committed with an ostensible aim of "clearing the city of riffraff", and there had been strong suspicion that there had been encouragement from above.
This phenomenon was not a novelty for the Cyprus Police Force. In 1962, a group of policemen under the guidance of a senior police officer, Georgios Lagodontis, in co-operation with Nicos Sampson, murdered seven underworld figures to... "clear the city of riffraff". The main causes of the murders were rivalry over control of underworld activity.
The Police, during the first years of independence, was the steel fist of Georkadjis. Rather than a law enforcement mechanism, it became a wasp's nest of the parastate. Members of the police force were involved in abductions and beatings of political opponents of the regime.
The most characteristic of all cases was that of the murder of Neoklis Panayiotou and Euripides Nouros on August 15th 1962 on the road from Nicosia to Limassol, outside Moni. The double murder had been organised by the Minister of the Interior himself, in full co-operation with a group of senior police officers. It was co-ordinated from Police Headquarters, while the weapon had been issued to the murderers from police stores.
During the same era, a series of serious political crimes was committed, including murders, beatings and blackmail, featuring policemen who enjoyed full political cover.
Members of the police force, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, were at the core of Georkadjis' "Organisation" and of Denktas' TMT, the actions of which led to the collapse of the London - Zurich agreements in 1963. With the departure of the Turkish Cypriots from the police in 1964, 700 more policemen were immediately recruited solely on the basis of political criteria. Anyone with leftist origins was excluded from the police force, and the corps was a nationalist breeding ground.
It is no coincidence that fully two thirds of the members of the organisation known as the National Front, which acted from 1969 to 1971, were policemen. In Limassol, the National Front fully controlled the city's police command. In an operation during May 1970, with the collaboration and assistance of policemen, the organisation raided the city's central police station and made off with its entire stock of weapons! That operation eventually turned out to be the organisation's Waterloo, but the government summarily wrapped up the case, because according to police captain Fanis Demetriou, who had investigated the affair at the time, had there been any trials, the entire police force would have had to be sacked.
The police was not without share of responsibility for the divisions before the 1974 coup d' etat. Remnants of the Georkadjis era joined EOKA B, while just about any Tom, Dick and Harry joined the Reserve Corps formed by Makarios in 1973 to combat EOKA B.
After the 1974 disaster, the government failed to reform the police. The police corps continued to spearhead of the authoritarian exercise of power by all regimes, either massing people for political rallies, or as itself a massive conduit for political favouritism, since all appointments and promotions were only made with political criteria:
- Under Makarios, not even appearances were kept up. No rules governing promotions existed, and all lists were drawn up at the Presidential Palace. On May 1st 1977 Makarios promoted 144 people at once, with the given reason being their resistance to the 1974 coup d' etat.
- On February 15th 1978, Kyprianou promoted another 413 policemen to the rank of sergeant, of which 350 were promoted by exception, the reason given being resistance to the coup once more.
- Under Vassiliou the first rules for promotions were put in place, but Minister of the Interior Christodoulos Veniamin, who had served in the same post under Kyprianou, reserved the right of promotion by exception. Favouritism evolved to become a multi-party activity, while it became a rule that police chauffeurs of ministers and political figures were detailed as policemen and returned to the force as sergeants.
- Clerides promoted "nationalists" as a counter to the favour shown by previous governments to "resistance fighters", while he loaded all his friends with stars of rank.
- Papadopoulos, despite his sworn oaths to combat favouritism, promoted another 350 "resistance fighters" to satisy AKEL who had never before had a share of the promotions.
The Cyprus police is beating people in 2006 because, as of its nature, it expresses the authoritarianism of each successive regime. It lashes out because it is the only thing it knows how to do. The police abuses suspects out of incompetence, too. Torture secures confessions and achieves success which would elude them if they tried more orthodox procedures, because they lack professionalism. They often abuse innocent people, because they are certain that they are guilty. A hierarchy which originated as political party clientele, without adequate training, cannot function professionally. There are of course the exceptions, officers who rose through the ranks by merit and persistence. But they are just a few healthy branches on a rotten tree.
Makarios Drousiotis - Politis