#rbnews weekly bulletin 06-15 March 2013

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

The HIV-positive women who were imprisoned and exposed publicly in Greece in an unprecedented case of criminalization of HIV-AIDS are now all free.
The last five women who had remained in prison awaiting trial for more than ten months were acquitted on Monday by an Athens court. A total of 8 women have been acquitted so far in this case that saw the arrest of 26 HIV-positive drug users last May in Athens during a police operation that involved a series of human rights and medical confidentiality violations. The women were accused by then-Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos of being sex workers who were aware of their HIV status and thus represented a threat to public health. The national Centre for Disease Prevention and Control had closely collaborated with the police during the sweep operation to conduct rapid HIV tests on the detained women without their consent and then to imprison them on charges of intending to cause grievous bodily harm to their alleged clients.
In addition to the 8 women who were acquitted, the remaining 18 have been released and the felony charge that they intended to cause grievous bodily harm to alleged clients has been reduced to a misdemeanor.
In an announcement following the acquittals, the Solidarity Initiative Toward the Persecuted HIV positive Women, an activist initiative formed in the first days following the arrests, called for “criminal liability” in relation to the incident. Already some women together with Greek NGOs have launched law suits in the Greek and European courts.
Radiobubble has been following the case closely; Radiobubble’s Zoe Mavroudi is preparing a video documentary on this story, which will be released sometime this spring.
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Protests against ore mining projects in northern Greece gained momentum this week after the authorities’ reaction to last month’s arson attack on the Skouries mining side run by Hellas Gold and its parent company Eldorado Gold evolved into full-fledged repression against the village of Ierissos in Halkidiki. 154 random detentions of residents have taken place in the villages around the Skouries forest since 17 February, culminating in a raid by a large force of riot policemen and anti-terrorism units on the village of Ierissos on 07 March. Residents, detainees and lawyers accuse the police of excessive use of force, even torture, and of forcing detainees to hand over DNA samples.
A joint anti-mining demonstration organised by the People’s Committees of the three regions of northern Greece threatened with ore mining projects, Halkidiki, Kilkis and Thrace, took place in Thessaloniki on Saturday 09 March. It evolved into an extremely large demonstration, possibly up to 20,000 people, due to increased turnout of residents of mining areas but also of residents of Thessaloniki who joined the march in solidarity. A protest against cuts to education, involving teachers, university students and parents’ groups, which was taking place at the same time, also joined the anti-mining demonstration. The march was peaceful and no clashes were reported; however, the police removed journalists from the top of the White Tower on the seafront of Thessaloniki to prevent them from taking pictures. This unprecedented move to manipulate the press went unnoticed by mass media.
Two more protests against mining took place on Tuesday 12 March in the town of Komotini in Thrace and in Athens. In Komotini, some 3,000 people gathered on the city’s central square to protest against plans by Eldorado Gold to develop an ore mining project in the region; eyewitnesses noted a strong presence of members of the Muslim minority of Thrace in the protest. In Athens, some 5,000 people marched peacefully from the historical building of the University of Athens to Syntagma against mining and in solidarity with the people of Ierissos. A further demonstration was planned on Friday 15 March in Heraklion, Crete.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras signalled this week that his government may be willing to reconsider the plans for mining in Thrace but emphasized that plans for mining in Halkidiki were a done deal. It must be noted that, only weeks ago, he had stated that all permits for the mining project in Thrace would be fast-tracked to be issued within ten days. Meanwhile, random detentions of residents are continuing in Halkidiki, with some 15 people having been held and questioned by the police this week. The police tactics were less heavy-handed this week however, with anti-terrorism units being pulled of the case which has now been fully taken over by State Security.
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Dozens of departments, faculties and entire universities and higher technical education institutes are under occupation in protest at the Athena reform plan for higher education. The Ministry of Education claims that the Athena plan, which aims at merging university departments, faculties and even entire institutions will rationalize the allocation of funds for higher education and improve cost-efficiency. The university community at large denounces the fact that merging plans were established on the basis of political clientelism rather than need and that tens of thousands of students will be displaced from one university to another at a time when their families cannot afford the cost. In Thessaloniki, 6 students have been on hunger strike for over a week in protest at their department being shut down, requiring them to move to Mesologgi.
A key concern is that the Athena plan will ultimately lead to further deterioration of conditions in public universities and will promote the development of private higher education. It further transpired this week that the study on which the Ministry based the plan was conducted by a private company, IEK AKMH, which, as a provider of private post-secondary education, has a vested interest in pushing for limiting access to public universities.
The deterioration of conditions in public universities is made abundantly clear by the fact that subscriptions to scientific journals will be suspended as of 01 April as the Ministry of Education has failed to release funds allocated to cover their cost.
Protests against the Athena plan took a dramatic turn on Sunday 10 March in the city of Mesologgi, where the higher technical education institute is scheduled to be closed. Angry protesters surrounded the hotel where Alternate Minister of Health Marios Salmas was meeting with supporters and sought to enter the building despite the presence of riot police, who repelled them with tear gas. It appears that the alternate minister agreed to meet with a delegation of citizens but then fled the hotel through the back door. Witnesses report that his vehicle sped through the crowd, dragging along some protesters and wounding one who was hit by the wing-mirror. Further clashes followed between the police and the assembled crowd, leading to a total of 12 people being transferred to hospital with wounds or respiratory problems.
A large, pan-Hellenic demonstration of students against the Athena plan also took place in Athens on Thursday 14 March. This was the largest demonstration so far against the Athena plan, with thousands of students from virtually every higher education institution in Athens but also from other cities, including Thessaloniki, Patra, Larissa, Volos, Ioannina, etc.
The reaction of the higher education community has already led the government to amend the proposed bill and to abolish some of its provisions. It must be noted however that the Athena plan will not be enforced following a vote by the Hellenic parliament, but with an act of legislative content, a procedure that only requires the signature of the president of the republic, bypassing parliamentary control. Under the terms of the Greek Constitution, acts of legislative content are a procedure to be used in cases of extreme emergency; the current government however has been abusing the procedure since November 2012 to push through elements of legislation for which it doubts that it will be able to secure the votes in parliament.
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On Sunday 10 March, the Golden Dawn MP from Larissa and a number of local Golden Dawn officials were booed out of the village of Tsaritsani in central Greece by residents who were paying tribute to the 45 national resistance fighters who were massacred by the occupation forces in 1943 during World War II. The Tsaritsani Cultural Association, which was organising the commemoration, issued after these events a statement titled “Fascism will not pass”, in which it squarely condemned Golden Dawn. Several media have noted that Golden Dawn had garnered an unexpectedly high number of votes in villages and towns where there had been nazi massacres during World War II in the May-June 2012 elections, such as Kalavryta and Distomo. There have however been several cases where Golden Dawn officials were not allowed into such villages, most notably in Viannos, Crete, where residents took measures to block them out both during the election campaign in April and again during a tour of Crete in September 2012.
Meanwhile, Golden Dawn took another hit, at the parliamentary level this time, when an overwhelming majority of MPs voted on Wednesday to lift the immunity of Golden Dawn MP and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and allow him to be taken to court for assaulting communist MP LIana Kanelli live on a morning TV talk show in June 2012. Only three MPs, all of them from senior government coalition partner New Democracy, voted to strike down the motion, against the party line. Two of them later claimed that they had made a mistake, while New Democracy General Secretary Manolis Kefalogiannis defended his vote, arguing that Kasidiaris should be given a chance to apologize.
Kefalogiannis still has to answer for the fact that his recently-appointed chief of staff, Ilias Philippakopoulos, was identified as an enthusiastic supporter of the Junta by HOT DOC magazine last week. Furthermore, this week, news website left.gr uncovered that Ioannis Kotoulas, the advisor on matters of citizenship, naturalization and immigration to the alternate Minister of Interior, is a Nazi sympathiser. Kotoulas was found to be the author of a book called “The Rise of the Third Reich”, in which he describes Nazism as a “great revolution.” Two coalition parties, Democratic Left and Pasok, main opposition Syriza and Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece have called for Ioannis Kotoulas to resign but elicited no response from New Democracy so far.
Finally, a campaign was launched this week to persuade the management of the President Hotel in Athens to refrain from hosting a so-called history lecture about the Greek Revolution of 1821 by Golden Dawn on Friday 15 March. The hotel did not back down but had to take down its Facebook page due to all the negative publicity generated by the campaign. During the conference, among other things, Golden Dawn MP and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris threatened with a major demonstration if TV channels were to broadcast Turkish soap operas on the anniversary of revolution day, March 25.
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