(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

New legislation was introduced recognizing the right to conscientious objection. However, about 250 conscientious objectors to military service on religious grounds were imprisoned. All were prisoners of conscience. Legal proceedings continued in the case of 11 people prosecuted for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

In May Greece acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols.

In June Parliament adopted Law 2510/97 on conscription, which includes a provision for alternative civilian service. The law states that conscientious objector status and alternative civilian service or unarmed military service are available to conscripts declaring themselves opposed to the personal use of arms for fundamental reasons of conscience based on religious, philosophical, ideological or moral convictions. However, the length of the alternative civilian service remains punitive, being 18 months longer than military service. The provisions for alternative service can be suspended by a decision of the Ministry of Defence in case of war and conscientious objectors performing alternative civilian service will be incorporated into the compulsory unarmed military service. The law does not recognize the right to develop conscientious objection during military service. Conscientious objectors who carry out trade union activities or participate in a strike during the period of alternative service will have their right to alternative civilian service or unarmed military service revoked and have to serve the remaining part of their service in the army. As the provisions relating to civilian service were not due to come into force until January 1998, conscientious objectors who refused to perform military service in the meantime still faced prison sentences of up to four years. During the year about 250 Jehovah's Witnesses were serving prison sentences for exercising their right to conscientious objection on religious grounds.

Legal proceedings continued in the case of 11 people prosecuted for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. In March Hara Kalomiri's conviction for "founding and operating a place of private worship for a Buddhist community in Chalkidiki without government permission" (see Amnesty International Report 1997) was confirmed on appeal in Thessaloniki; her sentence was reduced to two months' imprisonment suspended for three years.

The appeal hearing of six members of the Organosi gia tin Anasingrotisi tou Kommounistikou Kommatos Elladas, Organization for the Reconstruction of the Communist Party of Greece, due to take place in September 1997, was postponed until January 1998 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

In October Vasilis Romas, Costas Tasopoulos, Petros Vasiliadis and Pavlos Voskopoulos, members of the ethnic Macedonian minority party Ouranio Toxo (Rainbow) stood trial in Florina charged with violating Article 192 of the penal code. They were accused of "causing and inciting mutual hatred among the citizens" by hanging up a sign containing the words "Florina Committee" in both Greek and Macedonian, outside their Florina office in September 1995. The indictment stated that the use of the Macedonian words "Lerinski Komitet" "provoked and incited discord among the area's citizens [who] justifiably... identify these words with an old terrorist organization of Slavic-speaking alien nationals which was active in the area"

Amnesty International received information from the authorities about cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment and of excessive force by law enforcement officials which the organization had raised in 1996. In January Amnesty International was informed that the death in custody of Lütfi Osmance (see Amnesty International Report 1997) in January 1996 was due to "pathological reasons". The authorities stated that an administrative investigation had revealed as "groundless" allegations that the detainee had been ill-treated. Lütfi Osmance died in a police station in Athens where he was taken after being discharged from hospital. According to an autopsy report his head and face bore marks of beating – injuries not observed when he was treated in hospital. In December Amnesty International asked the authorities how they explained the apparent contradictions in the medical evidence surrounding the death of Lütfi Osmance. The organization also expressed concern that it had still not received information on numerous cases of alleged torture, ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement and prison officials which it had raised in previous years.

In July the Ministry of Public Order informed Amnesty International that an administrative inquiry had concluded that police officers who took part in a raid on a Romani camp in Aspropyrgos, near Athens, in February 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), had acted with "excessive zeal" and had ill-treated residents of the camp. According to the authorities, disciplinary measures had been taken against the police officers responsible and against senior officers in charge of the operation. The Ministry also gave information about two other cases raised by the organization in 1996. An administrative investigation had concluded that Mohamed Farhank Amin, an Iranian national, had not been ill-treated following his arrest by police officers in Athens in October 1996, but had broken his kneecap after he fell trying to escape from officers. A trial was pending in the case of a police officer who shot and killed an Albanian national during an operation to round up illegal migrants in Skala, Oropos, in January 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Throughout the year Amnesty International urged the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all conscientious objectors and to review the length of the alternative civilian service with a view to bringing it into line with international standards and recommendations. The organization stated its belief that the right to perform alternative civilian service should never be derogated from, even in time of war or public emergency, and that conscientious objectors should have the right to claim conscientious objector status at any time, both up to and after entering the armed forces. It called on the authorities to modify the new law accordingly. In December Amnesty International was informed by the Office of Prime Minister Kostas Simitis that in the opinion of the government, the new law was adequate to safeguard the right to conscientious objection, but that "the experience which practical application of the law provides may lead to possible improvements in the legislation".

In October Amnesty International expressed concern to the authorities that the prosecution of the four Rainbow members was inconsistent with Greece's obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The organization informed the authorities that if any of the men were imprisoned, it would consider them prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release. In October Amnesty International was informed by the Ministry of Justice that the trial of the men had been postponed until September 1998.

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