The trial of seventeen police officers, accused of bodily harm and torture against detained antifascist protesters in 2012, will begin on February 28th 2018.
By Mariniki Alevizopoulou and Augustine Zenakos
One of the most extreme cases of alleged police brutality in Greece is to be heard in court. The trial of seventeen police officers, accused of bodily harm and torture against detained antifascist protesters in 2012, will begin on February 28th 2018 – unless the officers’ defense persuades the court to postpone the proceedings once again.
[UPDATE 28.02.2018:] The court decided to postpone hearing the case, on the grounds that one of the defense lawyers could not be present. The new court date has been set for November 29th 2018.
The allegations against the police were widely publicized at the time after a story in The Guardian said that fifteen protesters were “subjected to what their lawyer describes as an Abu Ghraib-style humiliation”.
The story had prompted an indignant denial by the Minister of Public Order at the time, Mr Nikos Dendias, who is today a prominent MP and parliamentary spokesman for the New Democracy party, the main opposition. Mr Dendias had at the time threatened, during a speech in Parliament, to sue the newspaper. He never did. Although the former Minister has never really sufficiently explained why he failed to make good on his threat, the forensic reports that came to light after his denials in Parliament did indicate that the protesters had suffered serious injuries.
The fifteen maintain that torture took place after a motorized police unit broke up their antifascist motorcade demonstration in the area of Agios Panteleimonas in Athens, on September 30th 2012. The protest was a reaction to repeated violence against immigrants, perpetrated by fascist gangs, members or affiliates of Golden Dawn, the notorious neonazi party that had just gained entry to the Greek Parliament. The leadership as well as numerous members of Golden Dawn are currently on trial, charged with constituting a “criminal organization”. The latest such incident at the time was a violent attack on the premises of the Tanzanian Community in Athens, six days earlier.
According to the protesters, motorized police were following them and harassing them all along. After an altercation between the protesters and a small group that included Golden Dawn members, the police suddenly attacked the motorcade, using flash-bang grenades and tear gas. They arrested fifteen of the demonstrators, and beat them savagely with batons while handcuffed. A protester alleges that police officers were stepping on his chest, causing him serious difficulty to breathe. Another said he was hit with a Taser in his spine.
The fifteen detainees, according to their allegations, were then transported to the Attica General Police Directorate and were told to stay in a corridor outside the offices of the Directorate informally known as “State Security”. Formally the Directorate for Regime Protection, “State Security” is responsible for various surveillance operations and usually collaborates closely with the Antiterrorist Division. They were to remain there until they gave a statement to the police, without being allowed access to a lawyer. Officers of the police unit that made the arrests were also to give statements, and they were allowed to stay in the same space. The “State Security” officers, who were at that point responsible for handling the detainees, then withdrew to their offices, and only emerged occasionally to tell everyone to “keep it down”.
The protesters maintain that while at the Police Headquarters they were beaten again. Members of the arresting police unit, as well as a few others from the Police Special Forces that wondered in, then proceeded to put cigarettes out on them, shine flashlights and laser pointers in their eyes, spit on them, slap them, strip search them in plain view, all the while humiliating them and threatening them that they were going to kill their families. They were all denied water, and the only way to drink some was when they were allowed, after much taunting, to use the toilet. They were also denied sleep all through the night. They did not see a lawyer until the following day, almost twenty hours after their arrest.
The protesters say that during the torture the officers were bragging about being members of Golden Dawn, and photographed them with their mobile phones in order to put their pictures on the Internet.
Pictures of the detainees after their release on bail confirmed the presence of serious injuries, including a mark from a Taser. Forensic reports subsequently recorded the injuries.
After a lawsuit filed by the fifteen, the Internal Affairs Division investigated the allegations, and some of the officers were positively identified. The public prosecutor decided to charge the officers with the misdemeanor charge of bodily harm. Only one officer is charged with torture, again as a misdemeanor and not a felony. The officers of “State Security” that had the detainees in custody are not charged with a crime. The lawyers of the fifteen argue that the “State Security” officers were the designated custodians and should have been charged with failing to protect the detainees.
The Golden Dawn group that was involved in the altercation with the antifascists that night was never arrested. Two persons from the group subsequently became witnesses against the protesters, claiming they were just ordinary citizens out on a stroll, when the “anarchists” attacked them. Their statements to the police were instrumental to the state prosecution against the fifteen protesters: the charges were upgraded to include attempted grievous bodily harm, a felony. Both “ordinary citizens” are today defendants in the ongoing Golden Dawn “criminal organization” trial. Both were also convicted, in another case, for arson against a bar owned by immigrants in the Agios Panteleimonas area. The trial against the fifteen protesters is scheduled for March 12th.
The European Court of Human Rights has convicted Greece in over ten cases relating to torture and brutality against detainees by Greek security forces, including the police and the coastguard. No serious convictions have been passed in a Greek court, despite a torrent of allegations by victims, recorded by Amnesty International.
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