#rbnews weekly bulletin 02-08 March 2013

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

The human rights situation in north-eastern Halkidiki, a region of northern Greece where tensions run high between the government and ore mining company Hellas Gold on the one hand, and local residents who oppose the development of the proposed ore mining project on the other hand,  further deteriorated this week. The police continued detaining residents randomly and/or summoning them to the regional police headquarters in Polygyros for deposition, allegedly to investigate the arson attack on the mining site in the Skouries forest on 17 February. The total number of people detained and released exceeds 100 to date. All detainees have been released without charges.
Residents and anti-mining activists denounce the intimidation tactics used by the police, who detain people for hours on end without charges, do not allow them access to lawyers and force them to hand over DNA samples, with psychological but also physical pressure. For example, an 18-year-old high school student reported that he was forced to give a DNA sample under threat that he would not be released otherwise, with hints that he might be beaten. Under Greek law, the police are not allowed to take DNA samples from detainees who have not been charged with any crime.
The most shocking case this week was a 15-year-old high school student from the village of Ierissos, who was summoned to Polygyros to testify by a phone call to her school, while her parents were not informed. After the village went in an uproar and her father formally complained to the authorities, the police claimed that they had never summoned the girl, then proceeded to send a written summons to her house for the next day.
In the morning of Thursday 7 March, large numbers of riot policemen, together with officers from the anti-terrorism unit and national security, arrived in Ierissos to conduct house searches. When local residents set up roadblocks to prevent them from entering the village, the police responded with liberal amounts of tear gas, some of which was even thrown in the high school courtyard, where a student was wounded by a direct hit by a canister. The police claimed that the use of tear gas was limited, that none had been used in the school, that the breathing problems of some residents were due to the fumes from the roadblocks, and that no detentions/arrests were made, despite multiple eyewitness testimonies and photo and video evidence to the contrary. While the situation seemed to have somewhat calmed down by midday, fully armed policemen started conducting searches in the houses of detainees. The police launched a new assault in the afternoon against residents and journalists who were following them as they conducted house searches; reports suggest that they even threw tear gas in private homes where families, including children, were sitting. One five-year-old and one ten-month-old had to be transferred to hospital with respiratory problems.
A spontaneous anti-mining protest in solidarity with the people of Ierissos was organized in Thessaloniki in the afternoon of 7 March. Another anti-mining demonstration was held on Monday in Alexandroupoli, Thrace, another area of northern Greece threatened with ore mining. The people’s committees of Halkidiki, Kilkis and Thrace are also planning a joint demonstration in Thessaloniki on Saturday 9 March.
Meanwhile, a pro-mining demonstration was held last Saturday in the village of Megali Panagia in response to the large anti-mining demonstration that took place at the same location on 24 February. Demonstrators were mostly employees of Hellas Gold and its parent company AKTOR. Residents of the region, as far away as the village of Stavros outside the mining area, also reported receiving phone calls from the mining company and the miners’ union to pressure them  to attend the rally during the course of the week. Amusingly enough, at least two news websites used pictures from the anti-mining rally held in Megali Panagia on Sunday 24 February to illustrate their coverage of the pro-mining rally.
Residents of Halkidiki opposed to the ore mining project say that it will cause massive damage to the environment, deplete and contaminate freshwater resources and ultimately destroy far more jobs in farming, animal husbandry, food processing and tourism than it will create in mining-related activities. Their claims are supported by the findings of several independent scientific institutions, including the Environmental Council and the Faculty of Agriculture of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Macedonia chapter of the Technical Chamber of Greece.
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The Editors’ Newspaper published this week a confidential document issued by the National Centre for Health Operations, which describes the plan codenamed “Thetis”. The report says that the police designed the plan in cooperation with the Centre for Health Operations in order to implement it on Wednesday evening.  This unprecedented operation is intended to sweep drug users from downtown Athens without their consent and to transfer them to the Amygdaleza detention camp for undocumented migrants, in order to subject them to medical examinations and to record their personal and medical details. In addition to staff from the police and the Centre for Health Operations, employees from the National Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health are also expected to participate in the operation. ealth
Four central organisations for the rehabilitation of drug users immediately issued a joint statement in response, saying : “At a time when the crisis makes the situation of drugs users a little worse every single day and pushes more people into drug abuse and marginalisation, one would expect the State to take measures for prevention, timely early intervention, treatment and reintegration. On the contrary, this type of punitive policies, that stigmatize, pillory and further marginalize people have no place in a State with the rule of law. They deepen the fault lines in Greek society and increase its problems. ” The Federation of Associations of Hospital Doctors also expressed its opposition to the Thetis plan.
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The trial of Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris finally took place, after several postponements since his parliamentary immunity was lifted, on Thursday in Athens. Kasidiaris was accused of participating in an assault against a student in the Zografou campus of the University of Athens in 2007. He was specifically accused of aiding and abetting persons unknown who clubbed and stabbed the student and stealing his ID card. Kasidiaris’s name was brought to the case following the testimony of an eyewitness who had told the authorities that the attackers had escaped immediately after the assault in a vehicle whose licence plate number matches a car owned by the man who would become an MP for Golden Dawn.
The trial took place in a hostile environment as the court room was full of supporters of Golden Dawn, who came in early in the morning and were intimidating the lawyers and witnesses. People who were present in the room reported that the main witness received threats after completing his statement to the court. There were also complaints that the police were controlling anyone who sought to enter the room and who was not a member of Golden Dawn. An anti-fascist protest took place outside the courthouse during the trial.
Kasidiaris’s line of defence rested on the line that he was being framed by the Athens Indymedia website, which is explicitly anarchist-leaning. It is noteworthy that they key witness of the defence was journalist Nadia Alexiou, who has been accused several time of extreme-right leanings and of acting as a spokesperson to the police rather than as a journalist.
The court acquitted Kasidiaris, citing insufficient proof. As he left the court, Kasidiaris told the assembled journalists: “Until today, your trash TV stations called me a thief, a murderer and a criminal. I rub this decision in your face. We’re  almighty andsoonwe’llbeinpower.”
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A report broadcast on British TV channel Channel 4 this week caused a public outcry and the intervention of the judiciary, to whom it was referred by the newly established service of the police in charge of racist crimes. The report shows Andreas Plomaritis, a candidate in the 2012 general elections with Golden Dawn, saying about immigrants: “we’re ready to open the ovens. They’reprimitive. They’re miasma. They’re sub-humans. We don’t care at all for their existence.” He goes on to add that immigrants “should be turned into soap, but no for people, only for cars and sidewalks, because they’re chemical and we might get a rash.” Golden Dawn responded to the public outcry that Plomaritis had been pulling the filmmaker’s leg and that the channel had used a hidden camera, threatening to sue the channel, despite the fact that the video clearly shows that the Golden Dawn members are fully aware of the presence of the camera.
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The « Expel racism » movement reported on Tuesday that a teacher from the 5th secondary school of Zografou was being subjected to disciplinary action for walking into the school while holding a leaflet calling for an antifascist protest which had been given to her by anti-fascists distributing flyers in the street outside the school. It must be noted that disciplinary action against a teacher is no laughing matter, as the new disciplinary code of civil servants stipulates that any employee of the public sector subjected to a sworn administrative inquiry will be suspended without pay from his or her position until proven innocent. The Expel Racism movement has vowed to mobilize antifascists and provide all necessary support to the teacher until the investigation is over.
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Several antifascist marches took place this week, notably in Kallithea near Athens on 02 March, in Heraklion, Crete on 3 March and in the Athens neighbourhood of Pangrati on 1 March, where protesters succeeded in cancelling a planned Golden dawn event. A bicycle demonstration also took place in Athens on 02 March, with some 120 to 150 participants. The bikers notably set up a commemorative plaque set up at the place where Pakistani worker Shehzad Luqman was murdered in January. The archbishop of Siatista, Pavlos, stated again his support to the antifascist movement, saying that “Golden Dawn is a dangerous Nazi phenomenon.”
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Multiple demonstrations took place in the field of education this week across Greece, to protest the death of two students in Larissa last week as well as spending cuts to education and the higher education reform plan put forward by the government. The two students in Larissa died from suffocation after bringing inside their house a coal barbecue to heat the space due to massive tax hike which has made heating fuel prohibitively expensive. Banners reading “they are killing us” appeared in every one of the many education demonstrations held this week across the country.
Another particular issue of focus to universities is the “Athena” reform plan of higher education put forward by the government. The government claims that the “Athena” plan is intended to upgrade the quality of higher education while rationalizing the allocation of resources, chiefly by merging departments, faculties and even universities and higher technical education institutions. The higher education community at large denounces the fact that the merging plan is designed on the basis of clientelist political relationships instead of academic criteria, and that it will result displacing tens of thousands of students to other universities in the midst of a deep economic crisis, which many families cannot afford. The discussion of the “Athena” bill in parliament this week further highlighted tensions within the government on the issue, as junior coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left joined the opposition parties in expressing reservations and objections to the reform plan. Student demonstrations against the plan are expected to continue in all Greek cities in the coming days.
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The issue of possible further cuts to the minimum wage in Greece was raised again this week as EU Commissioner for Fisheries Maria Damanaki issued a statement in which she said that cuts to the minimum wage in all European countries are promoted by Brussels as a means to increase competitiveness. Meanwhile, To Vima newspaper published a report claiming that representatives of 11 multinational companies asked Development Minister Kostas Hatzidakis to cut the minimum wage for unemployed youth. The report caused an uproar and was officially denied by representatives of three of the companies; the Ministry of Development however did not issue an official denial. The minimum wage in Greece currently stands at €586 a month, with To Vima claiming that the 11 multinationals asked for it to be lowered at €300 when recruiting unemployed workers.
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It transpired this week that the purchase of 6 islets in the Ionian sea by the emir of Qatar was finalized for a sum of €5 million. The news made much noise on Greek media who emphasized the prime minister’s personal intervention to speed up the sales process following his recent visit to Qatar. What several media outlets, both Greek and international, failed to mention, is that this was not a privatization or sale of land by the Greek State to the emir of Qatar, but a sale of islands that were already privately owned by one private owner to another – albeit to a very prominent one. It is reported that the emir of Qatar intends to develop the islets as a private holiday resort for his wives and children.
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More than 5000 farmers participated in a protest in Athens on 5 March to demand that the government takes measures to reduce production costs as well as the burden of tax and benefits payments and mitigate the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy, which results in ever-larger surfaces of farming land being concentrated in the hands of an ever-smaller number of owners. This march came at the end of a full month of farmer protests, which took mainly the form of roadblocks on key national roads. While the farmers have decided to withdraw their roadblocks for now, they vowed to continue their struggle in other ways.
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 In its new edition on Thursday 7 March, the magazine HOT DOC revealed that Ilias Philippakopoulos, who was recently appointed by prime minister Antonis Samaras to the post of chief of staff to the secretary-general for governing party New Democracy, is a supporter of the 1967-1974 Junta and is accused of actions against students of the National Technical University of Athens during their uprising against the military dictatorship. Philippakopoulos was a chairman of the student unions that were appointed by the Junta. HOT DOC magazine published several letters sent by Philippakopoulos to dictator Papadopoulos, in which he congratulates him for the «Revolution of National Salvation» and its accomplishments. Even after Greece was expelled from the Council of Europe because of its antidemocratic regime, Philipakopoulos congratulated the dictator for confronting the European «barbarians». HOT DOC further notes that Philippakopoulos was denounced in the past by trade unions representatives of his own party and that he was recently sentenced in first instance to a year’s imprisonment and deprivation of his political rights.
Philippakopoulos is not however the only New Democracy official with ties to the Junta, the most prominent other example being the parliamentary spokesman of New Democracy, Makis Voridis, who started his political career as the leader of the youth movement of the National Political Union, a party founded by imprisoned dictator Papadopoulos.
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