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Cyprus probes bishop for possible gay hate speech

Bishop Neophytos of Morphou has sparked a furore in Cyprus, where the influence of the Greek Orthodox church runs deep, with his claim that homosexuality is passed on if a pregnant mother enjoys anal sex
Bishop Neophytos of Morphou has sparked a furore in Cyprus, where the influence of the Greek Orthodox church runs deep, with his claim that homosexuality is passed on if a pregnant mother enjoys anal sex AFP/File
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Nicosia (AFP)

Cyprus's top law officer instructed police on Thursday to investigate a Greek Orthodox bishop for possible hate speech after he claimed homosexuality is passed on if a pregnant mother enjoys anal sex.

The comments made by Bishop Neophytos of Morphou during a speech in June have gone viral and caused huge controversy on an island where the Orthodox Church wields immense influence over the Greek Cypriot majority.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Attorney General Costas Clerides said he had instructed the island's police chief to "investigate the possibility of any criminal offence committed" in connection with statements made by the bishop about "homosexuals and related matters".

The move follows a statement from the government saying it was "greatly troubled and dismayed" by the bishop's comments, which it said were needlessly stirring up social unrest.

Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said Tuesday that the bishop's remarks "insult the dignity and equality" of Cypriots, and called on him to retract them.

Costas Gavrielides, an adviser to President Nicos Anastasiades on acceptance and diversity, requested the attorney general look into the matter of homophobic speech.

He said that in four years since adoption of legislation outlawing hate speech, police have not investigated a complaint nor launched legal proceedings for homophobic or transphobic hate speech.

Bishop Neophytos caused a furore when excerpts of his speech went viral. He also claimed that gay men were instantly recognisable because they "have an odour".

Cyprus did not decriminalise homosexuality until 1998 and did so then only under the pressure of an ultimatum from the European Union which it was preparing to join.

Opposition was led by the church.

Since then, the island outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in 2004 and legalised civil unions for gay couples in 2015.

Social attitudes have been slow to keep up but recent opinion surveys suggest they have eased significantly in the past few years.

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