Turkish Cypriots urged to scrap anti-gay law

October 23, 2011 - 11:46 AM

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — An EU legislator urged the leader of Cyprus' breakaway Turkish north on Thursday to repeal an anti-gay law that has led to the arrest of a former Greek Cypriot Cabinet minister.

Lawmaker Marina Yannakoudakis raised the issue during a meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, and a top government official said Eroglu agreed that the law should be scrapped. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government regulations.

Yannakoudakis, whose parents are Greek Cypriots, was visiting the island with other European Union legislators for contacts with the Turkish Cypriot community.

"I was horrified when I heard that they hadn't repealed the law," said Yannakoudakis, a Conservative Party member of the European Parliament for London.

Last week, the law, a leftover from island's British colonial past, led to the arrest of Michalis Sarris, a former Greek Cypriot finance minister, on suspicion that he tried to have gay sex in the north. The law considers that a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

On Thursday, a Turkish Cypriot court formally charged and released the 65-year-old Sarris on euro46,000 ($63,000) bail and ordered him to appear before a judge next month.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but was split into a Turkish-speaking north and a Greek-speaking south in 1974, when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared independence in 1983, but that is only recognized by one country, Turkey. The entire island joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys membership benefits. The south repealed an identical anti-gay law a decade ago.

During his meeting with Yannakoudakis, Eroglu said that if his Parliament were to pass legislation repealing the anti-gay law, he would sign it, said the government official. However, no such bill is pending.

Mine Yucel, a Turkish Cypriot social activist, said Thursday that homosexuality is still considered a taboo by many residents of her part of the island.

But she said that's changing with the younger generation, pointing out that earlier this week activists had gathered in front of the courthouse where Sarris was being held to condemn what amounted to institutionalized homophobia.

"It's basically outrageous that we have these laws in this century," said Yucel.