In September 2020, Gavriel was placed under investigation by the Ministry of Education following complaints that his paintings, which he published on his personal Facebook account, are derogatory of religion.
Gavriel stands accused of “possible defamation of the educational service in general or his position in particular, or the possibility of shaking the public’s trust in the educational service and possible omission to behave properly to the public” under the Regional Educators Law of 1969, N.10/69 article 48(1) (d) and (e).
On 15 June 2021, Chair of the European Parliament’s Commission on Culture and Education, Sabine Verheyen, wrote to Cyprus’ Minister for Education, Culture, Sport and Youth, Prodromos Prodromou, expressing concern regarding the ongoing investigation. In the letter, MEP Verheyen notes that as the artworks for which he has been placed under investigation were not made in his capacity as a teacher, “one might be led to believe, therefore, that the investigation is not examining his conduct as a teacher or civil servant, but his artistic expression in his personal capacity.” Verheyen therefore reiterates that Gavriel has the right to freedom of expression under the Cypriot Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, irrespective of whether one agrees with his artistic choices, and therefore urges the Minister to ensure that any “unlawful indictments against him will be immediately lifted.”
George Gavriel is a teacher and painter who describes his artwork as “anti-establishment”. Some of his artworks, which he describes as “anti-establishment,” are religion-themed with one depicting a naked Jesus and another a dog urinating on the archbishop. Archbishop Chrysostomos is reported to be among the complainants.
The Republic of Cyprus is a sovereign island state in southeastern Europe. Situated in the Mediterranean Sea, it is located close to Turkey (north), Syria and Lebanon (east), Israel (south east), Egypt (south) and Greece (west). The Republic of Cyprus is a democracy that has de jure sovereignty over the entire island. In practice, however, the government controls only the southern, largely Greek-speaking part of the island, as the northern area is ruled by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey.
Although the Constitution does not specifically make reference to secularism, it guarantees freedom of thought, religion and expression. While these are generally upheld, there are indications of some special privileges afforded to religious groups, de facto blasphemy laws present within the Criminal Code and some reports of societal discrimination based on religious belief.
Although Article 19 of the Constitution states that “every person has the right to freedom of speech and expression in any form”, sections 141-142 of the Cypriot Criminal Code seem to contradict this guarantee by enacting a de facto blasphemy law in which it is an offence to essentially insult religions:
“Any person who with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, or makes any gestures in the sight of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year.
“…Any person who publishes a book or pamphlet or any article or letter in a newspaper or periodical which any class of persons consider as a public insult to their religion, with intent to vilify such religion or to shock or insult believers in such religion is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
— Articles 141 and 142, Cyprus Criminal Code
According to Gavriel’s legal representatives, the investigation against their client has repeatedly violated his rights guaranteed under the law in the following manner:
Humanists International believes that Gavriel is being targeted for his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, and calls on the Ministry of Education to drop its investigation immediately and unconditionally.
Humanists International has been advocating on behalf of Gavriel through its partnership with the End Blasphemy Laws Coalition.