For the past couple of weeks I’ve been going to bed at night and waking up in the morning thinking of a person I have never met and will likely never meet. I hardly know anything about the man himself. I only know that his name is Kostas Sakkas, that he’s 29 years old and that he was a university student until December 2010. That’s a lot less than what I knew about all the people I wrote letters for when I was a campaigner for Amnesty International.
I also know that Kostas Sakkas was arrested in Athens on 4 December 2010 in or near a weapons store. I know that he’s an anarchist. I know that he admitted to having something to do with those weapons. I don’t know that he ever did anything with them, nor has anyone ever shown any proof of it.
I know that Kostas Sakkas is accused of being a terrorist, but there again I never saw any proof. I know that no one ever produced any proof, since his trial hasn’t started yet – as a matter of fact, I know that no date has been set for his trial to begin. I know that he’s been in prison since 4 December 2010 – that’s two years, seven months and six days, or a grand total of 949 days.
I know that under Greek law, you can be kept on pretrial detention for a maximum of 18 months, and for another 12 months under very exceptional circumstances – that’s an absolute maximum of 913 days. I don’t know if detention without a trial date is what legislators had in mind when they spoke of very exceptional circumstances.
Most importantly, I know that district attorney Ioannis Moraitakis proposed that Kostas Sakkas’s pretrial detention be prolonged by 6 months beyond the legal limit of 913 days. I know that the Council of Appellate Magistrates approved this. I know that Kostas Sakkas went on hunger strike 36 days ago, and I know that his health is deteriorating rapidly.
I know that in my country, in Greece, a man whose name is Kostas Sakkas is being kept in prison without a trial for more than two and a half years, that he’s been on hunger strike for more than a month, that the political and judicial system show no sense of urgency whatsoever in dealing with the matter, and that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care, not one little bit.
And I find that deeply disturbing, so disturbing that I’m taking it personally.
I was born in Canada to Greek parents who had to flee Greece at a time when people were being held in prison without a trial. The reason we came back to live in Greece is that this was not supposed to happen anymore. But it’s happening, here and now, and a man named Kostas Sakkas might die because of it.
When I was a student, I would write letters for Amnesty International to ask governments or international institutions to take appropriate measures about political prisoners. I’ve written letters about high-profile detainees in Burma and obscure detainees in Tibet. I must have written hundreds of those letters. But no one is campaigning to write letters for Kostas Sakkas now. This is Europe, you see. The judiciary is expected to do the right thing – except that I know, I see every day that they aren’t.
I later worked in humanitarian aid for many years. I worked in Palestine during the Intifada, in Sudan during the early stages of a famine, in Chad during the beginning of a civil war, in the Congo in the middle of a civil war. Greece was my safe haven. And since I came back to live in Greece, one week before the 2009 elections, I am experiencing what the people in those countries experienced before we, the humanitarian workers, turned up: the collapse of every form of political, economic, social and cultural safety net, the collapse of everything that makes home a safe place to live in.
I’ve been feeling since 2009 that my safe haven is being taken away from me, but the case of Kostas Sakkas made the final penny drop. I don’t feel safe at home anymore. I used to fear the moment when the authorities would lock up people for no good reason, without due process, without any recourse to justice. Now it happened to Kostas Sakkas and I’m just waiting for it to happen to many, many more of us. Maybe they’ll decide that I’m friends with a terrorist because I wrote this post, or maybe they’ll come up with some other, random reason. Maybe they’ll arrest me under public health provision 39A for having malaria. I guess I can only hope that they don’t arrest the mosquito together with me.
And that’s why I’m taking it personally. Today it’s Kostas Sakkas who is being held, and it breaks my heart to think that a young man is starving himself to death because he’s held in prison without a trial. But I also know that tomorrow, it could be me.