#rbnews "weekly" bulletin 6-19 April 2013

Prepared by the #rbnews international team, translated by @IrateGreekThe text companion to this week’s and last week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

28 people were transferred to hospital, 12 of them with serious wounds, after farm supervisors opened fire with hunting rifles on a crowd of about 200 mostly Bangladeshi farm workers in Manodala, Peloponnese in the evening of Wednesday 17 April. Manolada has been notorious in Greece since newspaper reports in 2008 uncovered the slave-like conditions under which undocumented migrants were working in the strawberry fields. One of the three shooters already has a court case pending against him since 2008, in which he is accused of dragging an Egyptian man with his car.
The events in Manolada highlighted several shortcomings of Greece’s immigration policy but also of the judiciary and the police. The perpetrators were arrested on Friday after the 48-hour in flagrante warrant against them had expired, meaning that they are likely to walk free until their trial takes places. Rumours that the injured workers were being arrested for deportation were denied by the police and the Minister of Public Order, but were extremely credible as anti-racist groups have identified the risk of deportation as a key reason why undocumented migrants fail to report racist attacks to the police. Meanwhile, a local journalist who had been involved in reporting the inhuman work conditions of migrants in 2008 signalled that the police sought once again to impede reporting on this story. National mainstream media at first ignored the events and later sought to minimize their importance.
An electronic campaign to boycott Manolada strawberries was immediately launched by online activists, with several supermarket chains announcing that they would suspend purchases from the specific supplier after receiving an avalanche of emails from consumers. This is the second successful online campaign in Greece in as many weeks, with a previous campaign that targeted companies whose TV ads played during a prime-time show in which the presenter, Giorgos Tragas, had given a tribune to four Golden Dawn officials to express their views undisturbed.
These events came as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks published earlier this week the report of his recent visit to Greece, in which he noted the prevalence of racist crimes connected to Golden Dawn, which he explicitly calls a neo-Nazi party. The Commissioner further noted that, as a signatory of international conventions, Greece has an obligation to take action on these issues and may be able to ban Golden Dawn altogether.
Meanwhile, Golden Dawn engaged in several acts of violence on Thursday evening in Nikaia near Piraeus, where the neo-Nazi group had to shut down its offices this week due to reactions from the local community [update: this has been denied by the Sunday School for Immigrants]. A group of 10 Golden Dawners assaulted 6 anti-fascists who were leafleting for a demonstration planned on the anniversary of the coup that brought the Junta to power on 21 April 1967. Another gang of 8 beat up a single migrant passenger of a bus, sending him to hospital.
Earlier these two weeks, clashes took place in Patra in the evening of Monday 8 April between Golden Dawners and anti-authoritarians. Two members of an anti-authoritarian squat were followed by Golden Dawners as they returned to their occupied building, which the Golden Dawners tried to attack. The clashes became generalized after the police intervened, with many witnesses denouncing the tacit cooperation of the police with Golden Dawn attackers and the police’s excessive use of force, tear gas and flashbangs.

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A large protest took place on Saturday 6 April in front of the Drapetsona police station near Piraeus, where undocumented migrants are being held for months on end under inhuman conditions. The precinct was not designed as a long-term detention centre and only has individual cells intended for people to be detained for a few days. Despite this however, a number of undocumented migrants far larger than the precinct’s capacity has been held there for several months.
The protesters spent a long time in front of the police station while a delegation of representatives was able to enter the detention area. They spoke with the detained immigrants, many of which told them that they haven’t seen the light of day in months, that they communicate mostly in French, without interpreters, and that they need lawyers, especially for those who lost their ID documents. The detained immigrants receive only two meals a day and, although they are not subjected to physical violence, said that the conditions under which they are detained amount to torture. The officer in charge at the police station acknowledged himself that the conditions are unacceptable.
On the same day, 2000 detained immigrants went on hunger strike in detention centres around the country, especially in Amygdaleza near Athens. The detainees are protesting the fact that they are held in detention without trial and under inhuman conditions which have so far led to three suicides.
On Tuesday 8 April, there was an uprising of the immigrants detained in the Corinth centre when some of the prisonners climbed on the roof of the building and started throwing tiles at the policemen guarding them. One of them threatened that he would commit suicide if he weren’t let free. The suicide was avoided but the uprising continued on Wednesday 9 April and was repressed by a violent intervention by the riot police with abundant tear gas. 47 migrant detainees were charged with resistance to authority.
A protest organized by antiracist groups took place on Sunday 14 April in front of the Amygdaleza centre to protest the unfounded, extended detention of undocumented migrants. A delegation that entered the prison camp to deliver supplies were told by detainees that food and medical care are inadequate, that they cannot communicate with their families and that minors were being held together with adults. Some detainees also spoke of ill-treatment by the police.
It must be reminded at this point that the Amygdaleza centre is also used to detain drug users who are being rounded up in downtown Athens in the framework of the operation codenamed Thetis. The drug users are held there for identity verification and released in the middle of nowhere, from where they have to walk a long distance to return to town. Similar reports emerged this week of a sweep against homeless people in Athens, who also say they were transported to Amygdaleza.

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Maria Theodoraki, an HIV positive woman who was held in the HIV wing of the Korydallos prison near Athens, hung herself from the ceiling of her cell with her bed sheets this week. She had alreayd tried to commit suicide last week in front of her mother during visiting hours and had then been transferred for a few days to the psychiatric hospital in Dafni. Despite her poor physical and mental condition, the authorities promptly transferred her back to Korydallos, where she ended her life. It must be noted that the medical wing of the Korydallos prison is not equipped to deal with HIV/AIDS patients, which leads to inadequate care for cases like Maria and other HIV-positive detainees, most notably the 29 HIV-positive drug users who had been rounded up in an operation ordered by then-Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos, who had claimed that this was necessary to protect public health.

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The Movement against police brutality and torture was officially launched on Tuesday 9 April at EAT-ESA, the historic location where the Colonels’ Junta would detain and torture political opponents in Athens. The purpose of this newly-established movement is to denounce such events and raise awareness among the public but also to gather reliable data on cases of police brutality. The initiative has already gathered more than 1500 signatures which will be handed over to relevant government agencies as well as NGOs. The signatories to the initiative’s manifesto come from all over the world, among them distinguished names such as Noam Chomsky and Slavoi Zizek.

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Tensions flared again these last two weeks in north-eastern Halkidiki, a region of northern Greece where local residents vehemently oppose a project to mine gold and copper in the Skouries forest, an area of exceptional biodiversity and natural beauty. At 3am on Wednesday 9 April, agents of the anti-terrorism unit in full-face hoods literally broke into the homes of two residents of the village of Ierissos to arrest them. The two men are accused of participating in the arson attack on 17 February against the Skouries work site owned by mining company Hellas Gold and its parent company Eldorado Gold. One of the two men was arrested in front of his children, aged 3, 5 and 12. The policemen teased his 12-year-old son, telling him “look at your dad with his handcuffs now, because you won’t see him again for a long, long time.”
A solidarity protest took place the same afternoon in Thessaloniki, where the two men were taken to be detained in the police headquarters. Meanwhile, two employees of the mining company assaulted a resident of Ierissos, wounding him, without facing any legal consequences. The municipal councillor for Ierissos in the Aristotelis municipality resigned in protest.
Multiple demonstrations took place all over Greece on Saturday 13 April to denounce the brutal arrest in the middle of the night of the two residents of Ierissos. The prosecutor and the investigating magistrate decided on Sunday that the two men should be kept in prison until their trial, for up to 18 months. The men’s lawyers denounced the fact that the alleged evidence against their clients is shaky at best as well as the fact that the two men were interrogated in the Thessaloniki police headquarters instead of the courthouse. More demonstrations were held in front of the police headquarters during the detainees’ interrogation and when the decision to maintain their imprisonment until the trial was announced.
The coordination committee against gold mining in Ierissos also denounced an arson attack on the Ierissos police station on Tuesday 16 April as a provocation. Following the attack, the police decided to shut down the local police station and to conduct policing of the area from the regional capital of Halkidiki, Polygyros, while two squads of riot police will be allocated on a daily basis to guard the Polygyros police headquarters and the mining site. Police unionists denounced to local media the excessive cost of such an operation, as riot policemen brought in from other prefectures of northern Greece will be paid per diem. The unionists further complained that the police was being used as private security for the mining company and was unable to perform its regular duties such as regulating traffic and fighting crime because of the allocation of extra forces to Halkidiki.
The anti-mining activists suffered another setback this week when the Council of State rejected the appeal filed by residents of Halkidiki against the mining plans and decided that the terms of the Environmental Impact Survey were in line with Greek law. The activists however received the support of the powerful monasteries of Mount Athos, who sent a representative to Athens to hand to the prime minister a letter in which they denounced the decision to imprison the two arrested activists as “a decision which is not judicial, but political, with a goal to intimidate the population.”
In a similar case, the residents of the Papanikolou area of Achaia woke up on Tuesday to find their villages surrounded by riot police as bulldozers moved in to begin work on a garbage dump in the countryside. The residents denounce the fact that not only does the planned dump not comply with environmental standards, but that the legal process for its approval has not been completed, leading to privately-owned agricultural land being taken over by the contractors. Church bells started ringing on the villages on Tuesday morning to call people to protest at the worksite.

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In an address to the nation on Tuesday 15 April following the conclusion of talks between the government and the troika on the issue of bank recapitalization, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras triumphantly announced that Greece had secured the next €2.8 billion bailout tranche and claimed that there is finally light at the end of the austerity tunnel. He further announced in the same speech that 15,000 civil servants would be fired by the end of 2014 in order to reach the goal of a leaner state as demanded by the troika, but immediately added that “For each person that leaves, a new one will be hired through a totally meritocratic process. This is not the so-called human sacrifice that some claim. This is a marked improvement of our public sector and it is what Greek society is demanding.” Many interpreted this statement as a wink-and-nod to supporters of the government coalition parties that they would be offered jobs, paving the way for increased electoral support if needed. Civil servants held a work stoppage and demonstration in Athens on Wednesday to protest the announced sackings.
In a related development, the Ministry of Justice clarified this week that a law passed in March 2013, that essentially legalises the offering of small gifts to civil servants as an expression of gratitude does not extend to under-the-table cash payments. Democratic Left MP Giannis Panousis, who introduced the bill to parliament, claimed that he wanted to ensure that, for example, the parents of a newborn child giving chocolates or flowers to a state doctor could not be deemed as a bribe. The Ministry of Justice denied that this law created a grey area on the matter of bribery of civil servants, which is becoming an increasingly hot issue given the plans to proceed with sackings. It must be noted however that convictions of civil servants for bribery are extremely rare.

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The sad situation of freedom of the press in Greece became clear with several events these last two weeks. The webpages of Athens Indymedia and the independent radio station Entasi went offline in the evening of Thursday 11 April, apparently after the intervention of the authorities, in particular in the case of Indymedia, whose statement mentioned pressure from the prosecutor’s office. Indymedia was back up very fast on mirror sites, and a protest march was organized the next morning.
The Entasi radio station has been in operation for a decade in an occupied space within the Athens University of Economics, and has been an important source of counter-information, in particular during the youth uprising of 2008. The radio station had been attacked by the police in January 2012 in the framework of a larger operation against self-managed spaces. The police had then destroyed and confiscated equipments, but the radio continued operating normally. Before the radio broadcasts were suspended this time, a lawsuit had been filed against Entasi by the Skai Media group, which is owned by Greek oligarch Giannis Alafouzos.
Protests in solidarity with Indymedia and Entasi continued this week in Athens and other cities of Greece. Interestingly, during an occupation on 15 April of the Polytechnic University campus where the Indymedia server is located, the internet was cut off in the entire university. On Thursday, a show on the repression of outlets seeking to provide counter-information was broadcast from the offices of the Union of Editors of Athens Daily Newspapers.
In a separate case, Unfollow Magazine received on 01 April a lawsuit from Dimitris Melissanidis, who is demanding €500,000 from Unfollow following a report on fuel smuggling published by the magazine in February 2012, which highlighted the role of the Aegean Oil company in the smuggling scandal, a company where Melissanidis plays a prominent role. When the Unfollow report had been published in February, the journalist who authored it had received explicit threats by phone, against himself and his family, from someone claiming to be Melissanidis. In its press release about the lawsuit, Unfollow also noted with no small irony that they received it days before the April issue of the magazine was circulated, an issue that includes an extensive report on Aegean Power, the electricity subsidiary of Aegean Oil.
Another Unfollow magazine contributor, the popular blogger Pitsirikos, was targeted this week by Giorgos Mouroutis, the Director of Communications of Prime Minister Samaras, who revealed Pitsirikos’s full name on Twitter. What is more, Mouroutis stated that he had obtained pitsirikos’s name not through earlier media reports where it had been published in 2007, but by asking parliament security when pitsirikos had entered the building to interview the SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras. The fact that the prime minister’s office is monitoring the visitors of the opposition party leader caused outrage on social media but was ignored altogether by mainstream media close to the government parties.
Finally, journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, the journalist who revealed the Lagarde list to the public, also published this week, in the latest edition of his magazine, HotDoc, an extensive report highlighting the work of a gang of employees of the National Intelligence Service who, under orders from a prominent Greek banker, have been trying to assassinate him. You can read a summary of the HotDoc file in English here.
In this context, it is utterly unsurprising that Greece fell 14 spots in the Reporters without Borders classification on freedom of the press in the last year alone, ranking, at number 84, not only lowest in Europe but also behind several developing countries who are not known for their liberal regimes.

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