1. Release of hunger striker Kostas Sakkas
The Council of Magistrates of Appeals decided on Thursday that Kostas Sakkas could be released under conditions after 951 days of detention without trial and 38 days of hunger strike.
Sakkas had been arrested on 04 December 2010 and was kept on pretrial detention ever since, on accusations of aggravated illegal weapons possession and participation in a terrorist group. His time on remand had been extended from 12 months to 18, then to two and a half years and finally to a total of three years, well beyond the legal and constitutional limits for pretrial detention. He had engaged in a hunger strike on 04 June 2013 to protest the latest extention of his time on remand by 6 months.
Public pressure played no small role in ensuring Sakkas’s release. Multiple statements were released by trade unions, bar associations and other civil society agencies this week to demand his release, including NGO Médecins du Monde, who reported that the policemen on duty would not allow them to visit Sakkas in the hospital, and Amnesty International. Several campaign events were organized during the week on social media, and a group of prominent Greeks, including journalists, academics, artists and several former political detainees of the Junta announced on Wednesday that they would launch a collective hunger strike in solidarity with Sakkas should the Council of Magistrates of Appeals fail to take a decision for his release on Thursday. SYRIZA’s Euro MP Nikos Chountis also filed a question to the European Commission on the subject on Tuesday.
Several public protests also took place around the country during the week to demand the release of Kostas Sakkas. On Wednesday, a small march near the Acropolis to inform foreign tourists of Sakkas’s case was brutally assaulted by the police. Videos captured by tweeps @kinimatini and @_giant_ show police on motorbikes driving between demonstrators in a pedestrian street on the very site of the Pnyx, the birthplace of ancient democracy, then assaulting the group and savagely beating at least one protester who had fallen to the ground. 13 persons were detained, of which 3 were later arrested. Their trial was postponed to 18 August.
The Council of Magistrates of Appeals decision on Thursday was greeted with relief by the public who were campaigning for Sakkas’s release, but also by harsh criticism for the tight conditions it set, including a ban on leaving the country, mandatory appearance every Monday at the police station of the area, a bail of 30,000 euros, a ban on meeting or communication with his fellow defendants, confiscation of his passport, compulsory residence at his parent’s house and a limitation on movement restricted to the Attica prefecture. A movement has been launched to collect funds for Sakkas’s bail. It was reported on Thursday evening that Sakkas was moved to the civilian area of the Nikaia General Hospital and that he was eating food for the first time in 38 days. It is unclear yet what long-term consequences he may suffer from his hunger strike.
2. Renewed tensions in Skouries
Tensions flared again in north-eastern Halkidiki this week when the prosecutor and the investigating magistrate in charge of the arson attack case against the Hellas Gold mining worksite on 17 February 2013 ordered that another two residents of Ierissos be held in remand. The court case for this arson attack identifies 20 people as suspects, of which two were being already held in pretrial detention. The latest arrests bring the total to 4.
According to Hellenic Mining Watch, the so-called indications of guilt for the two men who were arrested are flimsy at best, as one of them was in Mount Athos on the night of 17 February, while the charge against the other is that he had ten unanswered phone calls on his mobile phone.
The news that the two men would be held on remand caused clashes outside the courthouse of the regional capital, Polygyros, where police threw teargas and flash bangs to disperse the crowd. The 15-year-old son of one of the two arrestees was arrested for assaulting the police upon hearing the news of his father imprisonment, while his grandfather was beaten by the riot police. Clashes later took place in and around the village of Megali Panagia, where tear gas canisters shot by the police set several trees of the surrounding forest on fire. A 73-year-old resident who was severely wounded during the clashes was arrested by the police .
The situation in north-eastern Halkidiki has been explosive for over a year due to a conflict between local residents and mining company Hellas Gold and its Canadian-based mother company Eldorado Gold. The mining companies want to develop a large-scale gold and copper mine in the area, in particular in the Skouries forest, an area of exceptional biodiversity and natural beauty. In this they have the support of the Greek government and political class, who claim that this type of foreign investment is part of the solution for the country to exit the crisis. Local residents and independent scientific organizations oppose the mining plans, saying that it would cause massive and irreparable damage to the environment and the local economy, while pointing out that the transfer of mining rights to Hellas Gold is a political and financial scandal.
3. ERT shutdown, continued
Greece’s public broadcaster ERT is still broadcasting online and via analogue frequencies in Greece one month after the government ordered it to be shut down. The broadcasts are continuing with the help of the European Broadcasting Union, who retransmit ERT’s signal via their satellite feed. The government is however still taking measures to prevent the broadcasts. On 8 July, police and privately-hired technicians brought down the transmitters in Cephalonia while similar actions were prevented in Patras and Chania by the gathering of large groups of citizens who protected the transmitters.
It transpired on Tuesday evening that the government would be launching broadcasts on the ERT digital frequencies starting Wednesday with the help of digital network provider DIGEA, a consortium of Greece’s six largest private TV stations. Indeed, on Wednesday morning, the ERT digital frequencies came alive with the logo of “Greek Public Television” which is being broadcast from private studios owned by Christos and Ninos Elmatzoglou. The Elmatzoglou company is partly owned by Pegasus, which owns Greece’s largest TV station Mega, and the Lambrakis Journalism Group, another one of Greece’s largest private media groups. The studios hosted for many years the Mega TV broadcasts. Furthermore, the deputy minister in charge of the public broadcaster, Pantelis Kapsis, has close links to both Mega TV and the Lambrakis Journalism Group in his capacity as a journalist.
The paradox of a so-called public television broadcasting from private studios owned by the deputy minister’s private-sector employers was not lost on ERT staff, who raised several legal issues. They asked if “Greek Public Television” has been recognized by the National Council for Radio and Television, if it has a licence to broadcast, how digital network provider DIGEA and the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization could broadcast its signal if no licence was issued, and who is paying the salaries of the workers operating the station. The government gave no answer to those questions.
Another legal issue pertaining to the issue of broadcasts by the so-called “Greek Public TV” is the fact that a large number of artists announced at the time of the ERT shutdown that any new broadcaster would not be allowed to use their work. This did not prevent the new channel from broadcasting, on its first day of operation, a movie by director Roviros Manthoulis, who said that he would go to court and demand €20,000 in damages from the State.
Meanwhile, three large journalist unions went on work stoppage in private media on Thursday to protest against the launch of “Greek Public TV”, while the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Editors’ Unions announced that it would engage in long-term strike action if “Greek Public Television” were to pursue broadcasting.
4. New austerity package and protests
Protests flared up again in Greece this week as the government announced that it has finalized, in collaboration with the EU-ECB-IMF troika of lenders, a new austerity package that involves, among other things, putting on furlough with immediate effect 12,500 civil servants at a time when the latest report of the Hellenic Statistics Authority shows that unemployment in Greece had reached 26.9% in April 2013.
The key groups included under these plans are municipal workers, especially municipal policemen, school janitors and teachers. The union of local government workers engaged in industrial action this week as did teachers’ unions, whose protest in front of the Ministry of Education was brutally dispersed by riot police on Wednesday. Most disturbingly, municipal policemen were offered and accepted the support of Golden Dawn, thus fueling concerns of a very high penetration rate of law enforcement agencies by the neo-Nazi party.
Greece’s two largest labour unions, the General Confederation of Workers and the Federation of Civil Servants, have announced a general strike on Tuesday 16 July to protest the new austerity package .
News of the new austerity package emerged as the National Committee for Human Rights, the State’s advisory body on human rights issues, published an extensive report on the reactions of international bodies to the recommendations it had issued in December 2011 regarding the impact of the crisis on human rights. The report notes that the Committee’s recommendations were approved by various international bodies, including the European Committee on Social Rights, the International Labour Organization, and the European Court of Human Rights, who refer to these recommendations in multiple statements, reports and decisions. The Committee concludes that there is a need for “an immediate mobilization of all forces in Europe to save the founding values of European civilization.”
5. Police intervention in Athens University on Monday 08 July
The central building of the University of Athens became the scene of yet another incident of police brutality on the morning of Monday 08 July, when students joined a group of university staff who had gathered in front of the main meeting room upon being informed that the University Board was holding an unannounced meeting to discuss management and administrative issues. The riot police was called by members of the University Board, who claimed that the protest put their lives in danger.
Despite assurances from professors who were participating in the protest that there was no such risk, the police initially sought to saw open the metal gates, then, after the gates were opened from the inside, detained 32 students who were transferred to the Athens Police Headquarters before being released.
Commenting on these events, Radiobubble guest contributor Panagiotis Sotiris noted that the entrance of the riot police in university premises was made possible by the abolition of the right of asylum in the summer of 2011: “It is now becoming obvious that we are witnessing an authoritarian institutional transformation of Greek Higher Education, aiming at restricting the ability of the student movement and the university movement in general to raise obstacles to the shift towards a more entrepreneurial Higher Education.” You can read his full analysis here.
A Piraeus court ordered this week sanitation company OIKOMET to pay €250,000 in damages to Konstantina Kouneva, thus acknowledging the company’s responsibility in the assault she was subjected to in December 2008.
Konstantina Kouneva is a Bulgarian national who moved to Greece in 2001. She was the general secretary of the Attica Union of Sanitation Workers and House Helpers and had received numerous threats because of her activities as a labour unionist. Late in the evening of 22 December 2008, as she returned from work, she was assaulted by two men who poured acid over her and forced her to drink some as well. The court decision recognizes the assault as a work-related incident and assigns partial responsibility to her employer, who had rejected her requests for a change of shift because of the threats she had been receiving.
Kouneva’s lawyer said that the damages payment would help pay for her medical care in Paris, where she is still undergoing a series of surgical operations to restore her health. It is unclear however if OIKOMET intends to appeal the court decision. It must further be noted that, five years after the assault, the assailants have still not been identified.
7. Corruption in Greece: the case of the 4,500 jobs in Manolada
Transparency International published this week its Global Corruption Barometer for 2013, which shows that more than half of Greeks feel that corruption in the country has increased in the past year. The three major institutions of public life that Greeks feel are most corrupt are political parties (90%), the media (86%) and the parliament (83%).
The 4500 jobs allegedly announced for strawberry-picking in Manolada are a prime example of the reason why Greeks cannot trust their media or public administrations. Manolada is an agricultural area of the northern Peloponnese which became infamous for the shooting of 28 immigrant farm workers by farm foremen on 18 April 2013. The shooting revealed the abject conditions in which the immigrants were working, which are tantamount to modern-day slavery.
On 7 June, 113 strawberry farmers from Manolada stated that they would be recruiting 4500 farm workers through the Labour Agency in order to show their commitment to fair working conditions and transparency. The story was widely carried by mainstream Greek media, even more so after a number of websites claimed that only 10 Greeks had applied for the jobs.
However, the administrator of a blog called “An Unemployed Man’s Diary” revealed this week that, when he sought to apply for one of those jobs, the local labour office referred to the farmers’ cooperatives, while the farmers’ cooperatives referred him to the labour office. In the end, he was not able to find any vacancy advertisement at all, and OAED employees told Kathimerini newspaper that it was all obviously a publicity stunt. However, the most prominent journalists who had essentially used the “10 applicants for 4500 jobs” line to justify the use of slave labour in Manolada have failed to retract their stories.
Some 100 Golden Dawn members attacked on Wednesday evening the open social space ‘Synergeio’, near Ilioupolis’ central square, while the police stood by.
At 7:30 in the evening, there was an English language class going on, with most participants being minors. The only two adults present on the scene were the teacher, who is over 60 years old and another person. A group riding 50 motorbikes and holding Greek flags, clubs and crowbars arrives at the scene. They were wearing GD T-shirts and scattered around brochures with their political positions. They assaulted not only the adults but also the children, while they made a mess of the place. Pictures and videos show policemen standing by during the attack, even though the police reported detaining 8 people.
It is the third time since March 2013 that Synergeio comes under attack.
9. Immigration detention centres and State practices against immigrants
The Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias visited on Thursday the island of Lesbos to supervise the camp that will be used as a reception centre for immigrants in the island. While there, he answered a journalist’s question about detention conditions in Amygdaleza, a migrant detention centre outside of Athens, and gave a rather provocative answer. Despite multiple claims of ill-treatment of detainees, Mr. Dendias described Amygdaleza as one of the most modern European detention centres.
Dendias further stated in Lesbos, which is the main entry point to Europe for immigrants, his satisfaction with the reception centre that will operate there by the end of August.
On its side, Amnesty International expresses serious concerns about detention conditions in police stations of Lesbos but also for Greece’s general policy regarding immigration. In a recent report, the organization states that the Greek government is trying to seal the country’s borders not only with tightened monitoring and the construction of a fence but also with a violent policy of refoulement. Some of the immigrants interviewed in Athens by Amnesty said that they had been abandoned at sea in ships that were not seaworthy or dropped on the Turkish side of the border with their hands bound.
Because of restrictions on refugee status in Turkey, support to those people who are sent back is extremely limited.
Lastly, according to the same report, immigrants arrested on the border and undocumented migrants identified during sweep operations inside Greece are faced with long-term detention, often in appalling conditions, while the necessity and proportionality of such detention is not examined despite the legal requirement to do so.