The three main opposition parties have called for Cyprus Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis to resign and take responsibility for the excessive use of force by the police during a peaceful demonstration on Saturday.
The protest in Nicosia was organised by progressive groups and blaming the Anastasiades and DISY administration of corruption in the ‘golden passports’ scandal, poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic and authoritarianism.
But it turned violent when the police, dressed in anti-terrorist gear, used tear gas and spray, and fired a water cannon injuring bystanders, many of whom were also beaten with clubs.
Anastasia Demetriadou, a 25 year old woman, was seriously injured in her eyes by the force of the water cannon, and will probably need a laser operation.
“I have been attacked by a water cannon because I danced peacefully on the sidewalk. I have serious eye injuries and I need surgery, but I do not regret anything! My kisses and good strength to all.”
The organisers have started a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for Anastasia’s eye operation.
Another protester was seen on the ground, with policemen clearly pressing their knees on his face, reminding many of the fatal George Floyd incident during the protests in Minnesota in May 2020.
“What we saw is unacceptable,” AKEL General Secretary Andros Kyprianou said in a post on social media, wondering what were the instructions given by the Minister and Chief of Police for repression and use of ‘brutal force’ at Saturday’s protest.
To her defence, Justice Minister Yiolitis issued a statement, condemning the excessive use of force and calling for a probe.
“The police must be by the side of the citizens in the exercise of their duties, not using force, and the use of force should be the last resort, in self-defense to the minimum necessary degree and only if other means remain ineffective or provide no prospect of achieving the intended result,” she said in her statement.
“From the images I saw, the necessary proportionality seems to be absent,” Yiolitis said in her statement, concluding, “there is no place for extreme behaviour in the police.”
However, the police trade union KAS-ASDYK pointed a finger at the political leadership.
“The scapegoat, the ordinary policeman, now has a trade union and will no longer be thrown like lamb to the slaughter. Ordinary police officers will not be tried for the motives or purposes of others,” it said.
Yiolitis, a corporate lawyer who was appointed minister when her predecessor took over as Attorney-General last year, has been criticised of double standards by causing a police raid on a schoolteacher’s home in Larnaca in December, suspected of running a parody account satirising her on Twitter.
The operation backfired when no incriminating evidence whatsoever was found and Yiolitis later tried to downplay the raid by saying she only filed a complaint as an ordinary citizen, but never ordered the police to take action.
Minister and Chief must give answers
AKEL said on Sunday that the minister and the Chief of Police must give answers about the orders they gave and not try to transfer the responsibilities elsewhere.
“The overall political responsibilities of the government do not negate the responsibilities of the minister. The minister must stop hiding. Taking political responsibility for cases of state authoritarianism and the resignation of the minister is the only way.”
AKEL said it will also raise the matter in parliament and demand a response from the government, as well as for the unconstitutional banning of protests.
The centre right Democratic Party (DIKO) condemned the excessive use of force by the police against citizens who protested against corruption.
“It is unacceptable that the Anastasiadis-DISY government uses health measures as a pretext to silence the criticism that is being exercised against it.
“There is a clear political responsibility. We expect the Minister of Justice to do the obvious and to resign.”
The Cyprus Greens said the scenes of violence do not honour anyone.
“How can the use of such police force against protesting citizens be justified? Who ordered these actions during the demonstration? Who will take political responsibility for these phenomena? Will the responsibility be transferred again to the police? What are the responsibilities of the political head of the police, Minister Yiolitis? Are these events another reason for her resignation?”