In 2008 the complainant, a Turkish Cypriot, moved to the UK and changed his name by filing an affidavit with the British Courts; thereafter all his official documents in the UK bear his new name. In 2010 he came to Cyprus and filed the same affidavit with the Cypriot Courts in order for his new name to appear in his birth certificate so that he can thereafter change his passport and identity card, as is the due procedure. The competent authority, which is the Kyrenia District Authority, declined his request on the justification that in order for him to take up a Greek name, he has to change his religion first and be baptised as a Christian. The complainant further alleged that during his encounter with the said District Authority, the employees intentionally spoke to him only in Greek so that he would not understand and their general attitude was rude and racist.

During the Equality Body’s investigation, the District Authority confirmed its position that in order for a person to acquire a Greek name s/he has to be baptized as a Christian. The authority rejected the allegations regarding the language of communication and the racist attitude of the employees. According to the Law on Population Archives 2002-2011, a name is granted from the parent to a child through a declaration at the Registrar’s office and not through baptizing, which is a religious ceremony of legal consequence. Article 43 of the said law sets as a precondition for the change of a name the presentation of evidence which the Registrar considers satisfactory, without specifying the nature of such evidence. According to the practice followed in other cases, the evidence required by the Registrar is intended to secure that the person requesting the change of name is already using the new name and is not seeking, through the change of name, to defraud third parties.

The Equality Body found as follows (decision Ref. Α.Κ.R. 118/2010, dated 31 July 2012): Union law does not restrict the member states’ power to regulate themselves the registration of names in their registries; as a result, national legislations differ significantly between member states. Thus, whilst some member states require specific or convincing reasons for the change of name, others (like the UK) do not set any preconditions whatsoever. However, in the exercise of their discretion and competencies, any restrictions imposed by member states must serve the public interest and comply with the general principles of Union law, such as the prohibition of discrimination, proportionality, freedom of religion. A series of ECtHR decisions have established that whilst states have a wide margin of appreciation to regulate the change of names in light of cultural, historical or other specificities, any restrictions must have a sound legal basis and must respect the right to private and family life enshrined in article 8 of the ECHR. The ECtHR also established that a person’s name refers to his/her private and family life. Reference was also made to article 18 of the Cypriot Constitution which guarantees religious freedom and equality of all religions before the law, evidencing the secular character of the state. The report expressed its doubts as to the legality of connecting particular names with particular religions as obviously most names have a religious or historical origin whilst the choice of a name may be based on a variety of reasons that may not necessarily be indicative of the person’s religious convictions. Finally, the policy of the District Authority to require a christening certificate for every person who seeks to change his/her name into a ‘Greek’ one lacks sound legal basis, required by ECHR case law, and violates the nucleus of the right to religious freedom.

The report concluded that the complainant’s allegations as regards inappropriate and racist behaviour on the part of the employees of the District Authority cannot be proven.It recommends that the District Authority re-examines the complainant’s request on the basis of the guidelines offered by the Equality Body in this report and informs the complainant of its decision in writing. The report is also notified to the Minister of Interior and the Kyrenia District Officer for their own actions, without specifying what these actions might be.

Comment: The concept of urging as many members of one community into adopting the religion of the other community dates back many centuries in Cyprus, as it was used by successive colonial powers in order to adjust and regulate the ‘minorities’ and the ‘majorities’ on the island. Given the political baggage that this concept is loaded with, the Greeks and the Turks of Cyprus, although to a large extent secular, do not take the change of religion lightly. This fact alone should have prompted the authorities to steer clear from such an antiquated and discredited practice and the Equality Body to identify and criticise this practice as mediated by power politics deriving from the Cyprus problem.

Even though it does express its concern over the act of connecting a name with a religion, the report does not identify the problem of equating ‘Greekness’ with ‘Christianity’ as a source of discriminatory policies and practices of a state that claims to be secular.

Also, although the Authorities are urged to take action on the basis of the recommendations contained in this report, no specific policy recommendations are mentioned anywhere. The decision to submit the report to the Minister of Interior and the District Officer concerned “for their own actions” essentially allows these two policy makers to take no action at all. Targetted actions should have been requested of the authorities, like terminating the current practice of requiring a christening certificate and introducing clear and objective criteria for allowing the change of names that have no bearing on one’s religion or other personal characteristics.

Source :