By Martin Banks - 16th April 2012
We all agreed that urgent changes are needed
British MEP Michael Cashman has called on the northern Cypriot authorities to "urgently update" the country's laws on homosexuality.
His call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in north Cyprus comes after he met leaders and non-governmental organisations in the northern part of the island.
Northern Cyprus is the last territory in Europe where homosexuality is a crime.
Following reports of recent arrests for homosexual acts in the northern part of Cyprus, another UK MEP, Marina Yannakoudakis, recently wrote to Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu condemning the country's law on homosexuality.
She called for the charges to be dropped and asked for a moratorium on further arrests.
Cashman visited the northern part of Cyprus on 12 and 13 April where he met MPs and party leaders, speaker of the Cyprus parliament Hasan Bozer, prime minister Irsen Küçük, and the Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
The talks focused on the need for what Cashman called a "comprehensive" review of local laws, which, he said, currently punish homosexuality with up to five years in prison.
Several arrests had taken place in recent months, prompting the visit.
Cashman said, "We all agreed that urgent changes are needed, including decriminalising same-sex activity; equalising the age of consent for both same-sex and different-sex intercourse; and defining rape more clearly."
Reshat Shaban, of the 'Queer Cyprus Association,' said, "Thanks to Cashman's visit to northern Cyprus, our demands for equal rights were heard by political leaders.
"Undoubtedly, the most pressing issue for us is to fully decriminalise homosexuality, equalise the age of consent and better protect LGBTQ people under the law."
Cashman, who is co-president of parliament's LGBT intergroup, said, "All my interlocutors agreed that local laws need updating urgently.
"Now the parliament must do its work, and align the criminal code with binding European standards."