1. Kostas Sakkas on hunger strike
The hunger strike launched by imprisoned anarchist Kostas Sakkas on 04 June 2013 has not earned him better treatment from the judiciary authorities but did manage to bring the issue of unfair trials and arbitrary detention in the public sphere. Sakkas has been held in prison without trial since his arrest on 04 December 2010.
Kostas Sakkas was arrested in Athens as he exited a rented storehouse containing weapons. He was charged with illegal possession of weapons and participation in an unknown terrorist group. The charge of participating in the group known as the “Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire” was added later on, despite the fact that his name is not even mentioned in the indictment bill of an on-going trial for the activities of this specific organization. These charges earned him an 18-month pre-trial detention period, which is the maximum allowed under Greek law.
However, two months before the end of his pre-trial detention period, and before his trial had even begun, he was charged again with the same offense of participating in the “Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire” and given another one-year detention period, extending the total to 28 months. His lawyers have challenged the legality of a new indictment under the same charges but to no effect.
The trial for the new charges has not even begun, yet the Council of Magistrates of Appeals decided recently to extend his second detention period by another 6 months, in contravention of the Penal Code which states explicitly that a second pre-trial detention period cannot exceed one year. As a result, Sakkas will have spent a total of 3 years in prison without trial, despite the fact that this violates Greek law, the Greek Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Sakkas started a hunger strike on 04 June to protest this latest extention of his detention period. His health has been deteriorating fast and he was transferred to the Nikaia General Hospital.
Opposition party SYRIZA raised the issue in parliament, calling such a prolonged detention period a “case of judicial arbitrariness.” The government reaction, as expressed in the press release issued by senior coalition partner New Democracy, is highly worrying, as it calls upon SYRIZA to “stop supporting every kind of defendant accused of anarchy and terrorism.” The implication that a political opinion such as anarchy qualifies as grounds for legal accusations caused a public outcry, but New Democracy has not withdrawn its statement.
Several actions were organized throughout the week on social media to demand Sakkas’s release. His defense team held a press conference on Thursday 27 June to expose his case, and a solidarity rally is planned on Saturday morning.
2. ERT shutdown, continued
Greece’s public broadcaster ERT has still not been restored to air more than a week after the Council of State issued a ruling stating that broadcasting should resume immediately following the government decided on 10 June to shut it down with immediate effect. ERT staff are still occupying the organization’s headquarters in Athens and emitting a pirate broadcast with the help of the EBU, who are livestreaming it on their website and re-transmitting it by satellite. The EBU also enabled ERT to provide actual content to its viewers this week by providing it with broadcasts of live sports events. Regional offices are also still occupied by staff, and ERT radio and television is de facto broadcasting across most of the country, albeit on sometimes weak analog frequencies that are constantly shifting. Reports early this week indicated that more than 4 million unique viewers have been watching ERT online.
ERT employees held a series of press conferences this week to expose issues with the government’s management of the Corporation. They revealed for example that 26 individuals recruited as consultants for ERT earn as much as the organization’s 661 journalists. Furthermore, they indicated that the Greek State stands to lose more than € 300 million from the abrupt shutdown of ERT, through the cost of severance payment to staff, breach of contracts to broadcast major international sports events and loss of investment for digital broadcasting equipment which was purchased for ERT to participate in the call for tenders for the selection of a digital network provider, which is due to open on 30 June.
Solidarity rallies outside the ERT HQ and concerts and other cultural events organized by ERT’s musical ensembles continued throughout the week. A meeting of dozens of unions and union representatives in ERT on 25 June further voted a motion to continue supporting the struggle of ERT employees and called upon labour federations to up their support and engage in adequate industrial action.
Partial severance payments have been transferred to ERT staff’s bank accounts by the Ministry of Finance, which is seeking to formalize the sacking of employees. Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras is however insisting that staff vacate ERT premises before payments can be completed, claiming that the Ministry needs access to the archives. Furthermore, termination notices were sent to ERT staff by surface mail in the name of Gkikas Manelis, the special administrator appointed for the liquidation of ERT – without however the Ministry’s official stamp or even his signature.
The ERT shutdown caused Greece’s biggest political crisis since the 2012 elections and resulted in Democratic Left leaving the government coalition. A close look at the ensuing cabinet reshuffle reveals that PASOK, with 11 ministers or deputy ministers, has been given government representation far in excess of its parliamentary or electoral power, while the overall tendency of the two-party coalition government has markedly shifted to the right. Political commentator Pantelis Kapsis, who was the Papademos government spokesman in 2011-2012, and who has close ties to private TV station Mega as well as the Lambrakis Media Group, was appointed deputy minister in charge of public radio and television.
Another immediate consequence of the cabinet reshuffle is that two amendments proposed by the Ministries of Education and Interior to put immediately on furlough a total of 12,500 civil servants, that had been dismissed by exiting Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis, are back on the table. The 12,500 civil servants are secondary education teachers and municipal workers, and are expected to be put on furlough by 8 July, under pressure from the troika who has reportedly set this as a precondition for disbursement of the next bailout tranche of €8.1 billion. Staff on furlough will earn 75% of their salary for one year, by the end of which they should be either re-posted elsewhere in the civil service or dismissed.
4. Industrial action in the private sector and issues with labour rights
The International Labour Organization held on 25 June a workshop on the issue of policies to confront unemployment in Greece. This workshop came ten days after the ILO condemned Greece for multiple violations of labour rights.
The unemployment situation in the country shows no signs of improvement. It was reported this week that the Nutriart Group, which owns Greece’s oldest company, Allatini, which was founded in 1802, has filed for bankruptcy, leaving 1000 people out of work and without severance payments. Another example of abusive sackings is the case of cement producer AGET-Iraklis, which is owned by Lafarge. The company’s decision to sack collectively 229 employees was overturned by the Ministry of Labour, but AGET took its case to the Council of State, in a typical example of private-sector corporations demanding that any conditions on the sacking of employees be repelled.
5. Taxation of freelancers: death by bureaucracy
It was reported this week that the Ministry of Finance is preparing a ministerial decree to demand that freelancers are required to submit monthly financial aggregate statements from the first euro of income, instead of yearly statements for amounts above €300 as in the current framework. This likely means death by bureaucracy for many Greek freelancers and goes against government commitments to simplify procedures in the relationship between citizens and public administrations.
Canadian Green Party leader and MP Elizabeth May was treated to a first-hand experience of the methods used by Hellas Gold when attempting to visit the Skouries ore mining site in north-eastern Halkidiki. May was in Greece after an invitation by the Greek Green Party.
The Canadian MP was accompanied by a group of residents who oppose the mining project on her way to the Skouries site when she found the road blocked by a company bulldozer that was digging up the road to prevent passage. May further expressed her anger at officials of Eldorado Gold, Hellas Gold’s Canada-based mother company, who had told her that a vast majority of residents of the area are in favour of the mining project: “They lied to me in Canada. They assured me that residents of Halkidiki and Thrace support gold mining, but I can see just the opposite. Eldorado Gold’s CEO Paul Wright is a big liar.” She committed to support the residents’ struggle against mining in every possible way.
Despite the fact that the Council of State rejected the last pending appeal by local associations against the mining project, residents scored a legal victory this week by obtaining a court injuction against all activities conducted by the mining company in the Karatzas river area. The Karatzas area has witnessed several occurences of clashes in recent weeks due to logging activities conducted there by Hellas Gold, who intend to turn this lush riverbed into a toxic waste dump.
The “News Under Persecution” exhibition, a photo exhibition on police brutality against photojournalists in Greece, finally took place in the European Parliament on 25 June after its last-minute cancellation earlier this month. The exhibition photos were displayed during an open discussion between Euro MPs from different political parties. The discussion revolved around the need for proper monitoring and protection of human rights in Europe during the current economic and financial crisis. The president of the Greek Photojournalists’ Union Marios Lolos emphasized that police brutality is only one form of violence against photojournalists, who are also confronted with other crisis-related issues such as censorship and self-censorship and exceedingly high unemployment rates. The president of the Social-Democratic group of Euro MPs Hannes Swoboda ended the discussion by commenting that events such as this exhibition should not be perceived as events against Greece, but as events in support of Greece as a free, democratic country.