#rbnews international weekly bulletin 02-08 February 2013

The text companion to this week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

On Friday 1 February, the police arrested four young men aged 20 to 25 in Velvento near Kozani in Northern Greece. The four men are accused of participating in robberies and being linked to the domestic terrorist group “Nuclei of Fire.” Weapons were found in their possession. The suspects, who made clear that their political loyalties lie with the anarchist movement, were taken to the police station where they were subjected to torture and degrading treatment for 4 hours, which resulted in severe wounds, dizziness and bruising. Despite this, the arrested men were taken, not to hospital, but to the Athens police HQ, where they were held for several more hours without communication with lawyers or relatives. Later on, the police proceeded to publish on its website pictures of the four men, which had obviously been doctored in order to hide the wounds. Relatives who saw them several hours later denounced the fact that the four men were tortured and beaten after their arrest, while they were handcuffed and without any resistance on their behalf. Furthermore, when the four men were finally transferred to hospital, they were examined and treated in the presence of hooded, fully armed officers of the counter-terrorism squad, who were also denounced for intimidating the doctors.
In a television interview, Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias admitted that the pictures had been photoshopped, because, he said, “the arrested should be recognizable, as the purpose of publishing pictures is that members of the public who recognize them can give further information to the police.” In other words, the minister implicitly admitted that the arrested had been beaten so badly that they could not be recognized. Minister of Justice Antonis Roupakiotis said that he was horrified at the sight of the pictures but added: “On the other hand – and I’m not trying to balance what I said – when you’re involved in clashes with people who hold kalashnikovs, you won’t be carrying flowers… These attitudes are violent by nature.”
It must be noted that some journalists tried to justify the use of torture against the four men, who are accused of participating in robberies and of having links to a terrorist group, while no evidence of this has been given yet. The websites of newspaper To Vima and News 24/7 for example put up polls to ask their readership of the use of torture was legitimate. Kathimerini columnist Konstantinos Zoulas wrote on Twitter: “For you so-called rebels who think that those who steal your money from banks with Kalashnikovs don’t need a few punches, I have a good psychiatrist.” Several blogs noted that his father was a prominent Junta supporter. Kathimerini also published on 04 February an editorial lauding the police’s professionalism and calling on the government to empower policemen, without mentioning in any way the  allegations of torture.
An Athens prosecutor ordered an investigation of the allegations of torture on 4 February. On 8 February however, the Hellenic Police Internal Affairs manager, Panagiotis Stathis, gave a statement in which he flatly denied the allegations of torture, claiming that the four men sustained wounds as they sought to resist arrest and that the mugshots had been taken as soon  as they reached the police station at around 1:30pm. These claims however are falling apart as the police failed to doctor the clock appearing on one of the pictures, which shows the time to be 8:25.

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The torture story drew angry reactions from left-wing opposition parties and various other groups. Amnesty International called for a thorough investigation of the allegations of torture. Marek Marczyński, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme, said: “The Greek authorities cannot just Photoshop their problems away. This culture of impunity needs to be stopped. There has to be an effective, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of police torture. Such an investigation has to identify those responsible and they should promptly be brought to justice.” The Hellenic League for Human Rights also issued a statement, saying: “By uploading today the doctored pictures of four accused youth, the Hellenic Police is not only publishing their faces. It is at the same time stating proudly that these people, who bear unmistakable marks of ill-treatment, were subjected to torture at its hands. All of society understands this, except the Greek judiciary and of course the leadership of the Ministry of Citizen Protection, which has already stated that there is no reason to even investigate this story. (…) Faced with the reluctance of authorities to do the most basic thing, meaning to conduct an investigation, the Hellenic League for Human Rights calls upon the Minister of Justice to order immediately a preliminary investigation and announces that it will file a relevant lawsuit with the prosecutor of the Supreme Court. Safety is not an abstract goal that has to do with public order, it is a right for all and it deserves the obvious, meaning legal action by the authorities. It cannot be achieved with arbitrary practices, violence and authoritarianism.”

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In a related case, the 15 antifascists who were arrested during a motorcade protest in downtown Athens in September 2012 and whose allegations of torture at the hands of the police had made international headlines after they were uncovered by the Guardian filed lawsuits against the police. Their depositions describe in detail the extreme brutality of the police assault on the motorcade, the fact that the policemen involved seemed to be mainly preoccupied with beating them in such a way as not to leave marks and bruises, and the torture they were subjected to inside the police headquarters, which includes systematic beating on the head and other sensitive parts of the body, verbal and physical attacks against their dignity, threats against their life, denial of medical assistance, deprivation of food and water and deprivation of sleep. These claims of torture had at the time been acknowledged by the investigating magistrate who had asked that the policemen involved be prosecuted. It must be reminded however that Minister of Citizen Protection Nikos Dendias had then flatly denied all allegations of torture, even threatening to sue the Guardian for its lengthy article about the case, a threat that has so far failed to materialize.

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Another, slightly surreal case of police brutality reported this week involved Giorgos Christodoulos, a well-known actor who was held overnight by the police for carrying a weapon. Mr. Christodoulos impersonates the legendary hero Achilles in a stage performance of Homer’s Iliad and was detained as he returned home from a rehearsal. The weapon he was carrying was the prop sword of Achilles. In his statement to the newspaper Eleftherotypia, Mr. Christodoulos emphasized that, beyond the inconvenience of being held overnight on such absurd claims, he was outraged by the police treatment of detained immigrants: “the policemen were throwing water at them, they insulted them and brutalized them, at one point they even took us away so we wouldn’t see what was happening but we could hear them scream.” Similarly, journalist Thanos Dimadis went public this week about a night he spent in detention in 2009, when he was arrested for drunk driving. He described not only how the police mistreated him, but emphasized that, when he returned to the police station on the next day with his journalist ID card to denounce the behaviour of the policemen, the officer in charge apologized, saying: “Had we known that you are a journalist, we wouldn’t have put you through this adventure.” In his article on the website protagon.gr, Dimadis concludes: “We must understand that such occurrences, which are tolerated by today’s coalition government, do not threaten the Euro but something much more important for our society: its progressive character and its European orientation.”

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In an interview with the newspaper Ta Nea, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks stated that he has strong indications of links between the Greek police and Golden Dawn. He specifically said that, beyond indications that large numbers of policemen voted for Golden Dawn, he had heard eyewitness accounts by victims of racist violence who described how the same policemen who were harassing them in the morning would return in the evening with Golden Dawn T-shirts. The commissioner described Golden Dawn as a nazi organization and a threat to democracy but stopped short of stating whether it should be banned, saying that this is a matter for the Greek authorities. He further expressed concern about the influence of Golden Dawn in schools and stated that this must be addressed through better integration of immigrants and improvements in the asylum system.

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The issue of Golden Dawn’s influence in schools was highlighted this week by the British newspaper The Independent, which published last Saturday a long article describing the group’s recruitment methids through grassroots campaigning, social media, youth sports and music clubs and relentless anti-austerity rhetoric. This resulted, for example, in a freak story of seven teenage boys who attacked a few weeks ago the shop of a Pakistani resident in the city of Larissa with rocks and batons, resulting in the son of the shopkeeper being treated for head injuries in hospital. Further extremist attacks were reported this week, such as an arson attack against the free social centre Istos in the Athens suburb of Chaidari last Saturday, a break-in at the Social Hangout-Migrants’ Hangout in the Cretan town of Chania, a physical assault against an immigrant again in Chania and an attempt at intimidation against the clinic run by the medical NGO Doctors of the World in the Piraeus suburb of Perama. In the latter case, the head of Doctors of the World, Nikitas Kanakis, described how a group of Golden Dawn supporters gathered outside the clinic while it was full of people, chanting slogans. They were repelled by the patients themselves, who reacted immediately saying that they were ready to fight back against any further move by the extremists. Kanakis concluded: “luckily today, there were no further developments and things stayed there.” In another, similar incident, members of Golden Dawn entered the hospital of Tripoli in the Peloponnese to check whether immigrant private nurses were present on the premises. They did so apparently with the support of the hospital’s managing director, who gave a joint press conference with Golden Dawn and stated that they had “common goals”. The manager’s attitude was denounced by the Arcadia Doctors’ Association.

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Golden Dawn held a gathering in downtown Athens last Saturday to commemorate the death of three Greek airmen who died in a helicopter crash during the Imia crisis in 1996. The dispute over the sovereignty of Imia, two small islets in the Aegean sea, had led then to a diplomatic and military crisis between Greece and Turkey, during which the helicopter crashed. This has become a flagship issue for nationalist groups in Greece, who claim that the helicopter was brought down by Turkish fire. A few thousands joined the Golden Dawn gathering, while there was widespread fear among immigrant communities that the Golden Dawners would proceed with attacks against people of colour after the gathering, as has happened several times in the past. Instead, Golden Dawn supporters approached menacingly the Villa Zografou squat after the gathering. Two hundred people quickly gathered in Zografou in solidarity with the squat, as well as police forces. There were fears that the police would take advantage of the presence of Golden Dawn to seek to evict the squat, which did not materialize. Spirits calmed down aftrer several hours, and the police and Golden Dawn left.

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The parliament’s ethics committee recommended lifting the immunity of Ilias Kasidiaris for his assault against SYRIZA MP Rena Dourou and communist MP Liana Kanelli in June 2012. Kasidiaris, Dourou and Kanelli were participating in a live morning talk show on Antenna TV when Dourou asked Kasidiaris how a court case against him was moving forward. Kasidiaris stood up and threw a glass of water at Dourou and, when Kanelli sought to intervene, he assaulted her physically live on air before fleeing the studio. He then managed to evade an arrest warrant in flagrante for the 48 hours of its validity after the events. The ethics committee recommendation will now be forwarded to the parliament plenary, which will decide whether to lift his immunity or not.

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German media have expressed concern this week over the fact that Golden Dawn is in the process of setting up offices in Nuremberg in order to recruit members of the Greek diaspora in Germany, but also that it cultivates contacts with German neo-nazi groups. It was reported this week that members of one such German group were the guests of Golden Dawn in the Greek parliament this week, after coming to join Golden Dawn’s commemoration of the Imia crisis.

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The fourteenth issue of Unfollow magazine, which was circulated on 31 January, includes a detailed investigative report into the issue of black market sales of fuel, in which Unfollow uncovered the involvement of Greece’s two large fuel companies, Aegean Oil and Hellenic Petroleum. The next day, the journalist who wrote the report, Lefteris Charalambopoulos, received a threatning phone call at the magazine’s office, by a man who introduced himself as Aegean Oil owner Dimitris Melissanidis. The journalist was able to determine that the phone number from which the call was made belongs indeed to Aegean Oil. The person who spoke to him for 20 minutes threatened the journalist and the magazine with a lawsuit, but did not limit itself to this. When the journalist tried to calm down the tone of the conversation, the caller issued threats against his life and the lives of people around him.
The magazine’s editors have called upon the relevant authorities to face their responsibilities in addressing this case but have received no answer so far. The Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union has also issued a statement denouncing the lack of appropriate reaction by the authorities and calling upon them to protect journalists and the freedom of the press.
A few days later, Dimitris Melissanidis denied, through his lawyer, that he had made such a phone call. It must be noted that his lawyer is none other than Failos Kranidiotis, an advisor to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The Unfollow team published Kranidiotis’s letter online and noted that it was still expecting the authorities and Melissanidis himself to investigate who had made such a call from the Aeegan Oil offices.

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Farmers renewed their protests on 04 February by blocking roads in northern Greece. Approximately 200 tractors took over the Serres-Thessaloniki highway without however preventing the movement of other vehicles and with discreet police presence. At the same time, more tractors took over the Larissa interexchange, again without blocking traffic. Eyewitnesses denounced hoever the fact that the police blocked access to the highway and diverted vehicles to side roads. When asked why they were doing this, the police said that they were following orders. Roadblocks were also set up by farmer in Crete on Tuesday.
On the same day, 4 unionists were sentenced to 8 months imprisonment with suspension for “impeding traffic” during similar protests in 2008.

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More strikes took place this week, with public media journalists going on strike on 5 February demanding collective labour agreements. Journalists further held a protest in front of the offices of the Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union. They then decided to extend their strike for another day.
At the same time, dock workers went on another 48 hours of strike on 5 and 6 February, demanding payment of salaries that have been owed to them for a year, continued health insurance from their social security fund and non-abolishment of their collective labour agreement. The strike was announced after an inconclusive meeting with the Minister of Maritime Affairs. The Minister originally committed not to proceed with civil mobilization; however, when the dock workers announced on Tuesday that they would extend their strike until Friday, the Minister issued a civil mobilization order that would take effect on Wednesday morning. The General Confederation of Workers denounced the government’s authoritarian tactics. The Piraeus Labour Centre and called for a general strike across Attica on Wednesday, in which it was joined by the General Confederation of Workers and the civil servants’ union ADEDY. Meanwhile, the dock workers’ union announced that the strike would continue normally and called upon workers to refuse to take the mobilization orders. The union further called for a protest at the harbour on Tuesday afternoon and for a symbolic occupation of boats and port facilities. Labour centres from other cities across Greece called for strikes as well, while the dockers’ union called off strikes in other harbours of the country to focus on Piraeus.
Buses and trolleys went on a four-hour work stoppage on Wednesday in Solidarity with dock workers. Early on Wednesday morning, the police sought to intervene at the picket line but pulled back after a while. Later that morning, the dock workers together with communist-affiliated union PAME marched to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs in Piraeus, which was surrounded by police, with the Minister accepting to meet only with the secretary-general of the communist party, Aleka Papariga. The dock workers’ strike was finally extended until Monday.
Finally, the civil servants’ union ADEDY and PAME joined the General Confederation of Workers in calling for a 24-hour general nationwide strike on 20 February. The strike is intended to protest civil mobilization orders and to demand the reinstatement of collective labour agreements.

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A Senegalese peddler was killed by electrocution on 01 February after falling on the train lines in Athens as he sought to escape from the municipal police who were performing controls for illegal trade. On 05 February, immigrant groups, youth movements and citizen groups marched in Athens to protest the State’s immigration policy and its ill-treatment of immigrants.  In a press conference on the same day, the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat highlighted the fact that many immigrants could not come to such protests for fear of arrest, and demanded that witnesses to Babakar Diayé’s death be granted residence permits so they can testify in court. Another protest, with a significant presence from the Senegalese community, was held in front of the Athens municipal council on Thursday.

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The Supreme Court decision abolishing the citizenship law voted in 2010 was published this week. The Supreme Court had deemed that articles of the law enabling immigrants to acquire Greek citizenship, albeit under strict conditions, and allowing foreign residents to vote in local elections, go against the Greek Constitution. It is unclear yet whether people who were naturalized under the law since 2010 will lose their citizenship, and whether the results of the 2010 regional and municipal elections will be challenged. The government has stated that it will prepare a new law which will require immigrants seeking naturalization to demonstrate strong bonds with Greece.

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A study published this week by the General Confederation of Greek Professionals in Industry and Trade highlighted the dramatic effects of austerity on Greek households and the economy as a whole. The study shows that half the population is at risk of economic marginalization, meaning that they cannot pay taxes, owe loans, and purchase lower quality products to be able to face their obligations. 93,1 % of households have been subjected to reductions in income during the crisis, 40% include at least one unemployed person, 72 % expect further reductions in income in 2013, 40% delay payments of taxes, utilities and loans in order to make ends meet while 50% are not able to pay, 42.5% seek to purchase cheaper products of lesser quality, 47% are open to purchasing goods without a receipt in order to obtain goods and services at a lower price, 70% waited for the sales season to purchase goods, 70% had scaled down their expenditure on food, while 92% have scaled down their expenditure for clothing. Only 12.6% of households declare that their main source of income is business activities, while 42.6% declare that it is pensions.

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