Criminal defamation was repealed in Cyprus in 2003 by Law 84(I)/2003.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Publicly insulting the army (Army of the Republic, National Guard or any other military force established by law) is a criminal offence under Art. 50D of the Cyprus Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to two years of a fine of up to (formerly) 1,500 Cypriot pounds (approx. €2500) or both.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Publishing anything intended to be read, or any sign or visible representation, that aims to humiliate, insult or expose to hatred or contempt a foreign head of state, ambassador or other foreign dignitary with the goal of compromising the peace and friendship between Cyprus and the foreign country in question is a under Art. 68 of the Cyprus Criminal Code.
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Provisions on the books.
Libeling the memory of a deceased person is a criminal offence under Art. 202A of the Cyprus Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to one year. Criminal prosecution is only possible when the relatives of the deceased file a complaint.
Provisions on the books.
Deliberately offending a person’s religious sentiments is a criminal offence under Art. 141 of the Cyprus Criminal Code. Additionally, publishing books, pamphlets, letters or articles in magazines and newspapers with the intent of humiliating a religion or insult those who follow it is a under Art. 142.
Other Relevant Criminal Offences
Art. 50 of the Cyprus Criminal Code states that any person who publishes, in any form, false news, or information that may otherwise undermine public order or the public’s confidence in the state or organs or cause fear or concern to the public or interfere with any way the common peace and orderliness is guilty of a misdemeanour. The punishment is imprisonment for up to two years or a fine. However, the article states that if the court is satisfied that the publication was made in good faith or in circumstances justifying its publication, there will be no punishment.
According to Art. 99 of the Criminal Code, publicly insulting another person so as to provoke an assault is a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment for up to one month or a fine.
Statistics on Application
Civil defamation is regulated under the . According to that law, there are two main types of defamation: libel (referring to a publication in permanent form) and slander (referring to a publication in transitory form).
This distinction is important since a plaintiff claiming slander will be required to prove that he or she has sustained special damages, unless certain exceptions apply, whilst in the case of libel, special damages need not be proved.
Art. 17 of the Civil Wrongs Law defines defamation as any statement that, by any means, including print, broadcasting, gestures, and spoken words:
- imputes to another person a crime;
- imputes to another person misconduct in public office;
- tends to injure or prejudice the reputation of another person with respect to his or her profession, trade, business, calling or office;
- is likely to expose another person to general hatred, contempt or ridicule; or
- is likely to cause another person to be shunned or avoided by others.
No action for defamation may be brought by the estate or personal representatives of the defamed individual. Legal persons (e.g., corporations) may also bring a lawsuit for defamation in relation to allegations of, for example, dishonest behaviour or mismanagement.
Art. 18 of the Civil Wrongs Law defines the “publication” of defamatory material. According to that article, publication may be effected in various ways but in all cases the material, in order to be considered defamatory, must have become known to at least one person other than the plaintiff. The recipient of the publication must have comprehended the defamatory material’s meaning as well as understand that it refers to the plaintiff. It is for the court to decide whether or not to adopt the opinion of the witnesses regarding the meaning in which they understood the words.
The author, the publisher as well as the printer of a defamatory publication will all be held identically liable for the publication of the same defamatory material in the a case of repetition and dissemination, with the exception of innocent dissemination of defamatory material.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Cypriot law.
Truth: According to Art. 19A of the Civil Wrongs Law, it is a defence to defamation charges if the impugned statements were true. If there are two or more allegations and the defendant proves that only a part of those allegations was true, he/she shall not be deemed liable unless there was actual damage to the plaintiff’s reputation.
Reasonable publication: Art. 21 of the Civil Wrongs Law provides a defence of qualified privilege that protects statements published believed in good faith to be true, and which were prompted by a legal, moral or social duty.
Opinion/fair comment: Art. 19B of the Civil Wrongs Law offers a defence of fair comment regarding certain matters of public interest (e.g. matters regarding the government or administration, the police, public persons, works of art, books, radio and television programmes). In order to benefit from this defence, the defendant needs to prove that the disputed publication contained an opinion and not a fact. The statement in question must be examined in the context of the publication as a whole. Also, if the defendant’s comment is based on facts, the veracity of these fact needs to be proven for the defence to be successful. The comment must also be shown to be the defendant’s fair and honest opinion.
Privileged reporting: Art. 20 of the Civil Wrongs Law bar libel actions on account of publications by members of the judicial body, declarations before the President or member of the Cabinet of Ministers and publications of the President and the Cabinet, statements regarding the discipline of the police, navy and army as well as their statements, and statements/publications regarding judicial procedures given by a judge, attorney, witness or a party.
Other relevant notes:
In order to successfully sue for defamation, a plaintiff will need to prove:
a. that the publication in question was defamatory;
b. that the publication referred to the plaintiff;
c. that “publication” occurred within the meaning of the law; and
d. that the plaintiff incurred special damages (only for slander).
If the publication occurred inadvertently, the defendant may call upon Art. 22, which allows for the making of an offer of amends. To do so, the defendant needs to prove that there was no intention to refer to the plaintiff and that he was not aware of the specific circumstances that could cause that the publication to refer to the plaintiff or that he was unaware of the specific circumstances under which the publication could cause defamation. Also, the defendant needs to prove that he acted with reasonable due diligence regarding the publication.The defendant must offer to make amends and offer to publish a statement retracting the defamatory claim along with an apology.
Art. 24 of the Civil Wrongs Law prescribes a special defence available to the owner of the publishing company, in case the defamation was published in a newspaper. The owner must deposit an adequate sum of money with the court and prove that there was no bad intention or negligence in the publication and that before or immediately after the publication he published a full apology. It should be noted that this defence will prevent the raising of any other defence by the owner.
According to Art. 68 (a) of the Civil Wrongs Law, the right to file a tort claim, including for defamation or malicious falsehood, expires after three years.
Media Cases and Case Law
Notable cases involving the media
In 2012, the Famagusta District Court ordered British citizen Conor O’Dwyer to pay more than €85,000 with interest in compensation to a property development company, Karayannas Developers, for defamation. O’Dwyer previously had previously fought a long court battle to prove that Karayannas had unlawfully terminated his contract; he won the case and was awarded €141,000 (approx. €200,000 with interest). In 2006, O’Dwyer started an online campaign via the website “lyingbuilder.com” because of his dispute with the developers. He posted scanned documents, recorded conversations and photographs of the disputed villa in Cyprus on the website to show his relations with the company and how they treated him.
Arktinos Case (Papaefstathiou)
In the case of Arktinos Publications Ltd v. Nicos Papaefstathiou (Civil Appeal No. 12139, issued on 12.7.2007) the Supreme Court of Cyprus annulled a lower court’s decision to award 25,000 CYP to the president of the Pan-Cyprian Bar Association as compensation for defamation. The lower court found the defendants guilty in relation to three articles published in 2001 about the plaintiff. The articles contained claims that certain lawyers did not want Cyprus’s defamation alws to be changed because this would affect their monetary interests. The Supreme Court was of the opinion that the articles were not defamatory, and even if they were, they would still be considered as a fair comment on a matter of public interest.
Cyprus Airways Case
On July 20, 2012, the Supreme Court of Cyprus the appeal of the publishers of the daily newspaper Phileleftheros and one of the paper’s journalists over a judgment holding the paper liable for defaming a Cyprus Airways pilot in an article. On Aug. 20, 2005, the newspaper had published on its front page an article claiming that the pilot of a flight from Athens to Cyprus carrying the president of the Republic of Cyprus had to get off the plane after it was found that his licence had expired some weeks prior. The article, which did not name the pilot, claimed that a different pilot had flown the plane.
The Supreme Court confirmed that the article was defamatory because the facts on which it was founded were not true: the respondent had, in fact, flown the plane. The defence of fair comment was rejected by the Court as the article was viewed not as an opinion, but as an erroneous statement of fact. The appellants’ claim that the report was about a different person and based on a date error was not supported by the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court decided. Furthermore, the Court stated that even though the pilot had not been named, his identity would have been known by a small number of persons. The Court also took into account what it viewed as the article’s innuendo/implicit meaning that the pilot had been irresponsible, negligent, and careless as he flew for weeks after his licence had expired. It was also noted that the publication took place just days after the crash of a commercial flight (Helios Airways Flight 522, Aug. 14, 2005) that killed all 121 passengers and crew aboard, which caused concern among the population.
However, the Supreme Court reduced the amount of damages awarded by the lower court, which had been €18,000 for general and €6,000 for exemplary (punitive) damages. The Supreme Court ruled that in the absence of extreme, arrogrant, or oppressive behaviour by the newspaper no punitive damages could be awarded. Furthermore, the fact that the article had not mentioned the pilot’s name reduced the number of readers that could identify him; for this reason, the Court considered that a general damage award of €4,000 was reasonable and sufficient to compensate the harm suffered by the pilot. The newspaper was ordered to pay the pilot’s full legal costs in the lower-court case, and half for the appeal proceedings.
Arktinos Case (Georgiades)
In 2008, the Cyprus Supreme Court heard the appeal of Arktinos Publishers (AP), owners of the newspaper Politis- Πολίτης, against a finding of liability for defaming the singer Doros Georgiades. The impugned material had bee published in Aug. 2001, at which time Georgiades and another person were under investigation for alleged sexual offences against women and underage girls to whom they gave private music lessons. The pair was initially convicted and sentenced to prison, but Georgiades’s conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the singer’s right to a fair trial had been affected by excessive media publicity. Following the Court’s decision, Georgiades sued several media outlets that had reported on the accusations for defamation, claiming large sums in damages. AP was ultimately found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay €100,000 to Georgiades.
The Supreme Court this judgement, stating that “the published material has nothing of any unreasonable excess and shows in a balanced manner a realistic picture of the flow of events in the specific case, which was undoubtedly one of public interest”. The Court stressed that the published material did not deviate from police and court testimony. The lower court, the Supreme Court said, failed to give due weight to the fact that the police was investigating sexual assault against females based on written testimonies by the plaintifs without identifying them as the truth. Furthermore, the lower court had failed to perceive the meaning of the published material as a whole, even seeking concepts and meanings of individual terms that did not correspond to the spirit of the article, for example, the term “φέρονται” [are suspected].
The available facts, i.e. that Georgides had been arrested and tried by the Assize Court strongly supported reasonable suspicion linking him to the misdeeds reported in the AP articles, the Supreme Court said, thus concluding:
The defence of truth under Art. 19(1) of the Civil Wrongs Law was legitimate, and the lower court’s ruling thereto had been erroneous;
The AP report Aug. 8, 2001 constituted a fair account of court proceedings, meaning that the defences of privilege under Art. 20(1)(d) must succeed; and
The published material referred to specific events relating to a well-known singer, meaning that the matter was of public interest. The respondent failed to prove bad faith or the lack of fair comment in the appellants’ critique.
In the light of the above, the Supreme Court : “The factual basis of the published material was real and the comments were reasonable, fair and honest. Where an issue of a qualified privilege was raised, the publication was well founded on that right and made it in good faith; when reporting on deliberations in court this was done in a fair manner. On this conclusion, the first instance contrary decision remains unavoidably unfounded […]”.
In its final comments, the Supreme Court observed that common law related to defamation had evolved separately from the right to free expression, which led to conflict between the two. However, the Court said that a shift was occurring, and that, for example, in England the defences and privileges for defamation had been broadened. In the case of Cyprus, the Court noted, Article 10 of the European Convention and Article 19 of the Cyprus Constitution applied to defamation cases, meaning there was a need to balance the protection of a persons’s honour and dignity with the right to freedom of epxression. Press freedom may be constrained but only to the extent necessary in a democratic society and, in order to guarantee free debate, inaccurate statements must be accepted as inevitable and protected as a prerequisite to ensuring freedom of expression.
The case related to an article Droushiotis published in the daily newspaper Politis – Πολίτης, in August 2005. Entitled “The interweaving relations of the political system with the big financial interests […] and the untrustful State”, the article commented on the links that politicians had with businesses either through serving on the latter’s governing boards or actings as their legal solicitors. The article concluded: “With such personal relationships and dependencies it is almost impossible for the state to effectively control businesses’ activities, which encourages promiscuity and breeds corruption”. It specifically referred to Papadopoulos, whose father was president at the time, and other persons in the president’s immediate environment that had such connections to businesses. Reported links with Suphire xxxx, a company that was under criminal investigation for appropriating 8,000,000 Cypriot pounds (> €13,600,000) from the provident fund of a semi-governmental organisation was highlighted as “indicative of the extent of corruption”. A lower court found Droushiotis guilty of defamation and ordered him to pay 8,000 Cypriot pounds (€13,700).
In considering the appeal, the Supreme Court sought to answer whether the article was defamatory and, if yes, whether any defences applied. The Court rejected the lower court’s view that the article imputed to Papadopoulos “dishonesty, immorality, indignity, corruption, interweaving and use of unethical methods to obtain financial and personal benefits”, but did conclude that it was defamatory in that it left open the possibility of such an interpretation. However, the Supreme Court found that the defamation was defensible. It noted that Papadopoulos was a member of the governing body of Suphire xxxx’s parent company and thus the statement was the reported connection was substantially true. Furthermore, the Court, having considered the article as a whole, found Droushiotis’s comments to be “an expression of sincere and honest opinion on a matter of great public interest”. It noted that there was no proof that the comments had been made in bad faith, and confirmed that Droushiotis had an obligation, as a journalist, to inform the public on matters of general interest, and thus the qualified privilege of fair comment applied. The Court : “With a free, boldly courageous and responsible journalism, it is possible to correct many incongruities in a modern society”.
Recent Legal Changes
In 2003, defamation (libel, insult, etc.) was removed from the Cyprus Criminal Code by Law 84(I)/2003. In Cyprus, defamation is now exclusively handled by civil law.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Cyprus was last updated in January 2015.