Covering events from January - December 2003
There were concerns about police ill-treatment of demonstrators during the June European Union (EU) summit. One person was shot dead in an apparently unlawful killing by guards on the border with Albania. A foreign human rights activist was threatened with expulsion. Discriminatory treatment of Roma by the authorities continued, and the conditions of detention for undocumented immigrants were poor. Conscientious objectors continued to face the threat of imprisonment.
Greece held the Presidency of the EU for the first half of 2003. During the EU summit in Thessaloniki in June, when the Presidency passed to Italy, anti-globalization demonstrations took place and the police arrested a number of protesters.
In July, parliament passed new legislation relating to "the possession, training and use of firearms by policemen" which limited the circumstances in which law enforcement officials could resort to arms and provided for police training in handling firearms.
In October, Greece ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, declaring that "the minimum age at which voluntary recruitment in the Greek armed forces is permitted by national law is 18 years".
In December the trial of 19 people on charges including carrying out bomb explosions and murder ended. Fifteen members of the "November 17" (17N) group were convicted and received prison sentences ranging from eight years to 21 life terms. Four of the defendants were acquitted. One of the accused claimed that he had been ill-treated while in custody.
Further instances of alleged unlawful shootings and ill-treatment by police and border guards were reported, particularly on the northwest border with Albania, crossed by many Albanian migrants. The victims included authorized and unauthorized migrants. Concerns raised with the Greek authorities about a killing in September met no response. The Ombudsman in Albania subsequently took up the cases with the UN Committee against Torture and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe.
- In September one person was shot dead while trying to cross the border into Greece with five other Albanians. One of three border guards fired at Vullnet Bytyci and at another of the group who tried to flee. Vullnet Bytyci was pronounced dead on admission to hospital in Kastoria. The border guard was arrested shortly afterwards but later released pending investigation for "reckless homicide".
- Also in September, three Albanian nationals – brothers Gori and Mili Halili and Rahman Pashollari – were allegedly detained, beaten, kicked and robbed by guards on the Albanian border near Krystallopigi. They were forcibly returned to Albania where medical examination at the hospital in the town of Elbasan found that Gori Halili had "bruising of the abdomen, rupture of the spleen and bleeding in the abdominal area", which required surgery to remove his spleen. Rahman Pashollari was found to have sustained a fractured rib.
- In November Albanian national Shpëtim Shabani alleged that three Greek police officers beat him with their guns, kicked and punched him, leaving him covered in bruises and with an injured shoulder. He said they were dressed in camouflage uniforms, asked to see his papers as he drank coffee in a bar in Agrinio, and assaulted him in full public view. He was reportedly detained at a police station for two days before being forcibly returned to Albania.
Impunity and independence of the judiciary
A high-profile case of alleged rape highlighted concerns about the impunity enjoyed by police officers and the independence of the judiciary in handling complaints against officers.
The judicial authorities failed to call as a prosecution witness a Ukrainian national, Olga B., who was reportedly raped by a police officer in Amaliada in February 1998. The trial of the police officer, the bar owner and three co-defendants took place before Patras Mixed Jury Criminal Court on 23 May. The bar owner was convicted of trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The three co-defendants were convicted of procuring or assisting in trafficking women and received two-year prison sentences. In the absence of the victim at the trial, the court concluded that she had consented to sexual intercourse with the police officer and acquitted him of rape. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for breach of duty. All of the defendants' sentences were suspended.
The court bailiffs said that they delivered two summonses to Olga B. to appear in court to give evidence at the first trial. She said that she had never lived at the address where they were allegedly delivered, and the people who lived at the address testified on oath that they had never seen any bailiffs. Olga B.'s complaint that the two bailiffs had falsely claimed to serve her the summonses was filed in Patras on 11 September, but by October had not been forwarded by the Patras prosecutor to the competent Amaliada prosecutor. Witnesses who had testified for the prosecution at preliminary hearings were also not summoned to give evidence. Olga B. reportedly received threats not to testify but was not offered any state protection.
After protests at the failure to call Olga B. as a witness in the first trial, a retrial was held in October. However, the court reportedly again failed to call her to testify.
Excessive force against protesters
Police reportedly used excessive force during a demonstration about the EU summit on 21 June – beating protesters with batons, and kicking and verbally abusing them. Of 100 demonstrators arrested between 21 and 23 June, 29 were charged, including three children under the age of 18. Three Greek nationals and four nationals of Spain, Syria and the United Kingdom (UK) were charged with possession of weapons (hammers and explosives) and detained to await trial until 26 November. Four of the detainees were allegedly ill-treated at the time of their arrest and later in police custody, and there were fears that at least one of them, UK national Simon Chapman, was charged on the basis of fabricated evidence. After international protests, the seven were released on bail.
Freedom of expression curtailed for human rights activist
- Gazmend Kapllani, an Albanian journalist and human rights activist, was threatened with expulsion from Greece after his residence application was rejected in March on the grounds that he presented a "threat to Public Order and National Security". Living in Greece since 1991 and prominent on racism and migrant issues as President of the Albanian Migrants Forum, he was studying for a doctorate at Athens Panteion University on a state scholarship at the time. After public protests by human rights organizations, he was granted a residence permit.
Roma and refugees
Local and European human rights organizations filed a series of complaints to the police, judicial authorities and the government, and to international human rights bodies, about human rights violations against Roma in Greece.
- In September, the police in Argostoli were accused by human rights organizations in Greece of repeated violations against Roma in the last four years. These included arbitrary and discriminatory arrests, ill-treatment in police custody, extraction of statements under duress, and falsification and corruption of evidence.
- Also in September, complaints were made that the government had failed to provide adequate water and electricity supplies to a Roma settlement in Spata, where 22 families had been forcibly relocated three years earlier. The local authorities had also failed to implement an agreement to provide a bus to transport Roma children to school.
Overcrowding in reception facilities for asylum-seekers, which include former prison buildings, was reported in several instances.
- In July, 24 asylum-seekers, among them a seven-month-old girl, were detained for five days in a secure open-air area on the seafront at the port on the island of Mytilini. They were moved from a detention centre for migrants, converted from a former prison, following complaints by local inhabitants. For the first few days, the authorities failed to provide them with adequate supplies of water or medical treatment. Local human rights organizations were refused access to them.
Twenty-six individuals lost their right to conscientious objection to military service. At least 10 of them had their right to perform alternative civilian service on religious grounds denied or revoked. Four Jehovah's Witnesses had their applications rejected because they had been unable to submit the required documents in time because of lack of cooperation from the authorities or on grounds of other procedural errors. Three Jehovah's Witnesses had their previously recognized status as conscientious objectors revoked on grounds of insubordination or breach of discipline. The applications of two other Jehovah's Witnesses were turned down on the grounds that they had carried out military service in other countries before their religious conversion and immigration to Greece. A Christian Evangelist was told that his religion was not incompatible with performing full military service and his application was also refused.
In September charges of "disobedience", brought against Jehovah's Witness Alexandros Evtousenko for refusing to carry out military service, were withdrawn after a court in Thessaloniki ruled that he could not be tried twice for the same offence. In another case, Lazaros Petromelidis was convicted and sentenced to 20 months' imprisonment by an Athens court, also for "disobedience".
The alternative civilian service available to conscientious objectors in Greece is of a punitive nature. A planned law, that would make civilian service double the length of military service, therefore still of a punitive length, had not been drafted by the end of 2003.
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