KKE, the Greek Communist Party, has filed a proposed amendment in the Greek Parliament that seeks to change the law on DNA evidence and completely scrap article 187A of the Penal Code, the so-called “terror law”. The filing took place two days before the case of “Irianna”, a young woman convicted of terrorism on contested DNA evidence, is scheduled to be heard in the Athens Court of Appeals.
By Mariniki Alevizopoulou and Augustine Zenakos
Current anti-terrorism special legislation in Greece has been introduced mainly with two laws, one drafted by the PASOK government in 2001, regarding “criminal organisations”, and one drafted by the New Democracy government in 2004, regarding “terrorist organisations”. The 2001 law ostensibly incorporated into national legislation the provisions of the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, dubbed the “Palermo Convention”. In practice, the law did not exclusively concern organised crime, but targeted Greece’s left-wing militant organisations, under US and international pressure. The major innovation was a provision that invented a new crime, that of “participation in a criminal organisation”, a felony. “Participation” in this context does not require the commission of any concrete criminal act, but constitutes a stand-alone offence that can be inferred by the courts.
The 2004 law incorporated into national legislation the European Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism. It introduced a new article to the Penal Code, the much-debated 187A, in which it defined the nature and scope of a “terrorist organisation”, as well as a “lone terrorist”. It, too, like the 2001 law, provides that one can be guilty of “participation” without any evidence being required to prove that they actually committed a criminal act. This allows an unprecedented facility of evidence interpretation by the police authorities and the courts, and has led to an increase in the rate both of arrests and convictions, as well as very heavy prison sentences.
These two laws have been decried by legal scholars as undemocratic, but governments have defended them either on the basis of the necessity to combat terrorism or because they form part of Greece’s “international obligations”.
The amendment filed by KKE proposes to completely remove article 187A from the Penal Code. The party describes the law as “dangerous” and maintains that it undermines the guaranties to a fair trial. The law, it argues, “unavoidably leads to the widening of the circle of suspects, since anyone who struggles for liberty and social justice can easily be considered a ‘potential’ terrorist”.
With regard to DNA evidence, KKE proposes changes to the relevant legislation, including:
- A limit to the number and nature of offences where DNA evidence can be collected and used.
- If the accused requests a new, independent analysis of their DNA, their request must be fulfilled. If a repeat analysis is for any reason impossible (for instance, there is not sufficient quantity of material), then the original analysis by the police cannot be used as evidence in court.
- Storing DNA data or using it for any other purpose except that for which its collection was ordered will be prohibited.
- A DNA match cannot be the sole item of evidence upon which a conviction is based.
The KKE proposed amendment comes after years of complaints by the legal defence community over alleged abuses of DNA evidence procedures by the police and the courts.
It also comes two days before a famous case in point is scheduled to be heard in the Athens Court of Appeals. The case, known in the media as the “Irianna trial”, involves two defendants, identified publicly as Irianna V. L. and Pericles M., who were convicted last June to thirteen years in prison, on evidence that their defence claims is highly circumstantial. The most controversial issue in the trial involves DNA evidence presented by the police, which independent experts have characterised as completely inconclusive. However, a repeat, independent analysis of the genetic material has been impossible because, according to the police, the material has “run out”. The trial is set to begin on March 21st.
The amendment proposed by KKE is attached to a Ministry of Justice legislative package, regarding the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which is still being discussed in the Parliamentary Committees.
KKE points out in a statement that SYRIZA had pledged to abolish anti-terrorism special legislation when it was still in opposition. Although it is true that SYRIZA officials, including Alexis Tsipras, have made such pledges in the past, the international politics involved in the issue of anti-terrorist legislation makes the possibility of change appear remote. Changes in DNA evidence law are easier in that respect, as many of the provisions proposed by KKE already form the basis of established rules of procedure in other countries.
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