No Surprises Here: Greek Government rejects amendment to scrap “terror law”

As expected, the Ministry of Justice rejected an amendment to scrap anti-terrorism legislation in Greece, proposed by the Greek Communist Party.

By Mariniki Alevizopoulou and Augustine Zenakos

 

In their amendment, which had been 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, several KKE MPs proposed to abolish article 187A of the Penal Code, dubbed “the terror law”. This article forms the substance of anti-terrorist legislation in Greece.

The KKE amendment additionally proposed changes in the legislation that regulates the collection and use of DNA evidence. The government rejected these changes, too.

It is true that SYRIZA’s positions before it came to power did include the abolition of these laws. But even as it was rising to power, between 2012 and 2015, leading officials systematically downplayed this fact. There has been no indication that SYRIZA intends to honour its original commitment.

So, why did KKE do it, if it was obvious that it wouldn’t get anywhere? There seems to be no other reason, except to just put SYRIZA on the spot, to watch its ministers squirm.

In the event, they did not. The Minister of Justice summarily dismissed the proposed amendment, saying that the issue would have to be examined “comprehensively” at a later time, as part of a wider revision of the Penal Code.

Admittedly, even if a political party is ideologically against such laws (as parts of SYRIZA certainly are), anti-terrorist legislation is not that easy to change. Despite persistent controversy over its blatantly undemocratic provisions, every government has defended it. The main reason is that it is not exactly national legislation, but an incorporation of international and EU agreements. What is more, these agreements reflect a solid consensus between numerous countries, so it follows that changing such legislation is also a matter of international and even geostrategic concern. Or, to put it another way, a great many other and more fundamental things would have to change, before abolition of anti-terrorist legislation can even be considered. No government will undertake it, unless there is really intense public pressure that far exceeds the protests of legal scholars, defence lawyers, and fringe leftist and anarchist groups.

There is perhaps a little room for flexibility in tinkering with specific provisions in the legislation, but even that would likely cause friction with the US and the EU, particularly as the opposition –which is moreover ideologically committed to the “terror law”– would certainly kick up a storm about it. And even if, hypothetically, a government would be willing to step into that political quagmire, it would have no reason at all to do it by endorsing an amendment by the Communist Party, and would in any case probably avoid calling it an “abolition” of the law.

The situation with DNA legislation, however, is very different. The KKE proposed amendment was filed two days before a famous case involving DNA evidence was 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 ongoing.

The need for the changes proposed by KKE is exemplified in the “Irianna trial”, but the proposed amendment also echoed persistent complaints by the legal defence community over alleged abuses of DNA evidence procedures by the police and the courts. Not only are the procedures followed by the Greek authorities out-dated and susceptible to abuse, when compared with those of other democratic countries, but there are also no international restraints that would hinder their revision. It might again be a case of not wanting to introduce changes via an amendment by another party, but SYRIZA’s refusal to consider this issue seems less like political prudence and more like a favour to conservative police and judicial circles.

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