Three years detained in Cyprus: Majid Eazadi

Cyprus : foreigner in a detention center, june 2010. Crédits photographiques O. Clochard et O. Pissoat.

By Olivier Clochard (this post is also available in french).

Majid Eazadi [1] is an Iranian citizen living in Cyprus since 2001. I met him twice, on December 17th 2009 and June 3rd 2010. We also talked several times on the phone and I read about fifty administrative documents and letters related to his situation. This short paper aims at reconstructing the story of a man who has now been detained for more than three years and who is desperate to be free.

In 2001, Majid Eazadi joined Tabriz and fled Iran. Hidden in a truck, he went to Turkey. He then reached a coastal city of the Mediterranean Sea where he boarded on a fishing boat. After five hours of sea crossing, he arrived in the northern part of Cyprus, in Famagusta. Then he crossed the Green Line which resulted in two months of confinement at Limassol police station for “illegal” entry in the territory of Cyprus. In 2010, many exilees [2] are still locked in for the same reason: according to the code of foreigners and immigration, any “undesirable” alien can be imprisoned.

After being released, Majid Eazadi filed an asylum claim; the UNHCR rejected it on November 16th 2003 (at that time the international organization was in charge of the instruction of asylum claims). This first decision was upheld on first appeal on January 12th 2004. A second appeal was made to the Cypriot authorities, but it failed. Since 2004 the annual recognition rate to grant refugee status is about 1 %; the possibility of being granted asylum is therefore very low. Majid Eazadi worked temporarily throughout this period of time.

In August 2007 he was suspected of possession of drug and was arrested in Limassol. He was sentenced to jail for a duration of four months, although he claimed in several letters to the Cypriot authorities that judicial authorities do not have any substantial evidence against him. After three months and six days in jail, he was transferred on November 28th 2007 to the detention center for foreigners of Block Ten, located in the premises of Nicosia central prison, in order to be deported to Iran.

This particularly long period of detention contradicts the Return Directive [3] that each Member State should have incorporated into its legislation by the end of 2010. This directive mentions that “each Member State sets a limited period of detention, which can not exceed six months”; it can be extended by a “specified period not exceeding twelve additional months”, i.e. a maximum detention period which should not exceed eighteen months. The reports of Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the Commissioner for Human Rights of Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, following their visits in Cyprus in May and July 2008, also emphasize the singular situation of asylum seekers whose applications were rejected and were subsequently put in detention; the authors urge the authorities to reduce their time of detention. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also underlines that in case the deportation of a person within a reasonable period of time seems unrealistic, the detention is not justified any more [4]. The detention of Majid Eazadi is therefore in contradiction with the ECHR.

This long period of detention in Cyprus, the uncertainty about the future, and the very problematic access to health care [5], increase Majid Eazadi’s vulnerability. Many other foreigners detained in Cyprus suffer from the same conditions.

On June 10th 2009 however, the Ministry of Interior decided to release him [6] and to grant him a non-renewable residence permit for 12 months, provided Majid Eazadihas finds an employment contract and agrees on contacting his embassy to get a new passport.

Obtaining travel documents requires negotiating with the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet, Majid Eazadihas has harshly criticized the Iranian regime in several letters [7] which increases his fear of the Iranian representatives on the island, especially as they sometime visit the detention center of Block Ten where asylum seekers from Iran are [8].

Obtaining a non-renewable one year residence permit makes Majid Eazadi highly anxious; he “is afraid of being deported as soon as his temporary permit of residence expires[9]. Accordingly, he resigned himself to remain detained in Block Ten.

During our interviews and telephone conversations, Majid Eazadi show different postures, what his letters sent to the Cypriot authorities confirmed. This may reflect a strategy of self-presentation or a respect for the institutions despite his degrading conditions of detention. For example, he is able to emphasize the respectful attitude of some of the policemen of the detention centers. In a letter to the Ministry of Interior sent on October 27th 2008, Majid Eazadi underlines that he is doing his best “to be a good prisoner”. He writes that he “helps keep the place of Block Ten clean, where he sometimes works as a gardener”. He shows attention to the Cyprus authorities by sending them letters for some religious events (Christmas, Lent, etc.). This attitude is somewhat reflected by the certificate of his former employer dated September 21st 2009, which confirms that Majid Eazadi was “extremely organized, reliable and dedicated[10].

However these three harsh years have led Majid Eazadi to go on hunger strikes [11] to express his disapproval with his detention in Block Ten. Majid Eazadi was also suspected of bribing an officer of the Cyprus Police during summer 2009, and of having given him 500 euros to get support by the Cypriot officials in order to be released [12]. Even if punishable by the law [13], bribery is, for foreigners who have been detained in Block Ten for many years a last resort in the hope of being released.

In a letter dated from January 18th 2010 sent to several organizations for foreigners and to the Ministry of Interior of Cyprus, Majid Eazadi wrote for the umpteenth time: “I desire to live as a free man”.

[1] The identity is true because the person wants to make publicity of his situation.
[2] There are asylum seekers among these people.
[3] Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, December 24th 2008.
[4] ECHR, judgment Chahal c. United Kingdom, November 15th, 1996, para. 113.
[5] In the absence of dental care, Majid Eazadi lost 15 teeth since he is held in Block Ten. He also mentions major health problems which are the cause of stomach pain.
[6] The Minister of Interior may, at its discretion, consider the release of an alien held in detention for over six months, provided that the person has not been convicted of a serious crime, does not constitute a threat to public order and agrees to negociate for the issuance of a passport or any other travel document.
[7] Letters to the Ministry of Interior of January 26th 2009 and July 1st 2009.
[8] Letter dated March 17th 2010 by Majid Eazadi to the Ministry of Interior of Cyprus.
[9] “No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (article 19 of Charter of fundamental rights of European union).
[10] Certificate of director of A.X. Bloklimatik H, Mechanical Services LTD.
[11] The first hunger strike began on October 25th 2008, a second began on July 1st 2009 and continued until at least July 10th 2009.
[12] These facts are mentioned by Majid Eazadi in a letter (August 4th 2009) he wrote to an official of the Ministry of Interior.
[13] In a letter from the Ombudsman addressed to Majid Eazadi, it is written that the Ombudsman received on September 29th a written response on behalf of the police chief. According to him, the investigation of the case against the police officer was concluded on September 2nd 2009. The record of the officer under investigation was transferred to the Attorney General’s office for further examination on the charges against the officer. Meanwhile, the police officer has been suspended from duty and a disciplinary proceeding against him is also underway.

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