Greece
Head of state
Karolos Papoulias
Head of government
Antonis Samaras (replaced Panagiotis Pikrammenos in June, who replaced Loukas Papademos in May)

Allegations of human rights abuses by police, including torture and excessive use of force continued throughout the year. Migrants and asylum-seekers faced impediments in registering their asylum applications and were often detained in substandard conditions. Hate crime on the basis of race and ethnicity escalated dramatically.

Background

The economy was in crisis, and unemployment reached 26.8% in October. Further austerity measures were voted by Parliament in February and November, amid protests in Athens and other cities. In May, the European Committee on Social Rights found that austerity legislation relating to public sector workers violated various provisions of the European Social Charter.

Golden Dawn, a far right-wing party with an aggressive anti-migrant rhetoric, won 18 seats in the June parliamentary elections.

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Excessive use of force

Allegations of the police using excessive force during demonstrations persisted.

  • In April, several journalists and photographers were attacked by riot police during protests held in Athens in memory of a 77-year-old retired pharmacist, who committed suicide. Marios Lolos, a photojournalist, suffered a serious skull fracture when a riot police officer beat him on the back of his head with a baton. No individual was arrested or charged for the attack.
  • On 5 August, riot police made excessive use of chemical irritants and reportedly fired rubber bullets and other impact rounds directly at peaceful protesters opposing gold mining operations in the Halkidiki region.
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Torture and other ill-treatment

Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment against individuals including members of vulnerable groups such as migrants and asylum-seekers held in immigration detention persisted. Systemic problems leading to impunity remained, including the authorities’ frequent failure to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and to ensure the right to effective remedy. In January, the European Court of Human Rights held that the rape with a truncheon of an irregular migrant by a coastguard in May 2001 amounted to torture (Zontul v. Greece). In August, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Greece failed to investigate the complaint of ill-treatment and discrimination by the police of a Greek Romani man in 1999 (Katsaris v. Greece).

  • In March, a Mixed Jury Appeal Court in Athens acquitted two police officers of causing bodily harm under the provision against torture in the Criminal Code to two refugees at the Aghios Panteleimon police station, Athens, in December 2004. The officers had been found guilty at first instance.
  • In October, serious allegations of torture of 15 anti-fascist protesters by police at the General Police Directorate in Athens on 30 September came to light. Supporters of the protesters, arrested on 1 October, also alleged that they were subjected to treatment amounting to torture at the Directorate. The authorities denied the allegations, but an investigating judge requested that the Public Prosecutor bring criminal charges against the police officers involved in the human rights violations of the protesters.
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Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

Despite reported improvements at the appeal level of asylum determination procedures, Greece made little progress towards establishing a fair and effective system. At the end of the year, the new Asylum Service had not yet started to process asylum applications, due to serious recruitment problems. The impediments faced by asylum-seekers when attempting to register applications persisted. For example, at the Attika Aliens’ Police Directorate in Athens, only around 20 applications were registered by the authorities each week.

Individuals trying to enter Greece from Turkey across the River Evros reported that they had been pushed back to Turkey by the Greek authorities. A 10.5km fence along the land border with Turkey in the Evros region was completed in December. Concern remained that the fence would prevent people seeking international protection from reaching safety, and that it would lead them to attempt unsafe crossings.

Asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, including unaccompanied children, were routinely detained and for long periods. In April, a new legislative provision was introduced allowing for the detention of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers on grounds such as suspicion of carrying infectious diseases such as HIV. The police crackdown on migrants that started in August raised concerns about discrimination against people because of their perceived ethnicity and that it would fuel xenophobia.

In October, an amendment to the legislation on asylum determination procedures allowed for police to extend the maximum three- or six-month period that an asylum-seeker can be held by a further 12 months. Substandard detention conditions in various immigration detention centres and police stations where asylum-seekers and irregular migrants were held continued. Conditions at the Elliniko detention facilities in Athens were inhuman and degrading. Between August and the end of the year, many asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, including many Syrian nationals fleeing the conflict there, were reported to be held in very poor conditions in police stations or were left without shelter.

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Discrimination

Hate crime

The number of racially motivated attacks escalated dramatically during the year. In October, the Racist Violence Recording Network reported that more than half of the 87 recorded incidents were connected with extremist right-wing groups that had acted in an organized and planned manner. A presidential decree providing for specialized police units in Athens and Thessaloniki to investigate racially motivated crime was signed in December. However, the decree fell short of providing protection for victims with no papers from arrest and deportation for the duration of criminal proceedings.

  • In August, a series of violent attacks was reported against migrants and asylum-seekers and unofficial places of worship in Athens and other cities. On 13 August, an Iraqi national was fatally stabbed. A criminal investigation was ordered but no perpetrator was identified.
  • On 24 September, an Athens court postponed the trial for the seventh time of three Greek nationals including a parliamentary candidate of Golden Dawn. They were accused of beating three Afghani asylum-seekers and stabbing one of them in 2011. It was one of the very few cases of racially motivated violence brought to trial.
  • In October, Parliament lifted the immunity of two Golden Dawn MPs linked with two attacks against market stalls belonging to migrants in the cities of Rafina and Messolongi on 9 September. In November, charges were brought against the MP linked with the incident in Messolongi.
  • On 3 November, migrants and asylum-seekers and their shops and houses in the neighbourhood of Aghios Panteleimon, Athens, were attacked, reportedly by extreme right-wing groups.

People with HIV

In May, the authorities arrested and reportedly forcibly tested for HIV over 100 alleged sex-workers. Serious concerns were expressed over the stigmatization of 29 of the arrested after their personal details including their HIV status and photographs were published by police and charges were brought against them for intentionally causing serious bodily harm. At the end of the year, 12 of them remained in prison, awaiting trial.

Roma

According to the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor, Romani children continued to be segregated or excluded from education while Romani families were evicted or threatened with eviction from their settlements without alternative and adequate accommodation being provided.

  • In December, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Greek authorities’ failure to integrate Romani children in Aspropyrgos into ordinary education amounted to discrimination (Sampani and others v. Greece). This was the second time that Greece was found to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights by segregating Romani children in primary education in Aspropyrgos.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

In November, LGBTI activists reported that incidents of homophobic violence had escalated in Athens. Victims reported that their attackers were members of extreme right-wing groups allegedly including individuals belonging to the Golden Dawn party.

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Conscientious objectors

Repeated prosecutions of conscientious objectors continued.

  • In February, the Athens Military Court convicted 49-year-old Avraam Pouliasis, one of the first conscientious objectors in Greece, to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years. Avraam Pouliasis was no longer obliged under the law to serve his military service as he was over 45.
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Prison conditions

During the year, the European Court of Human Rights found Greece in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in three cases, due to poor detention conditions in the prisons of Ioannina, Korydallos and at the detention facility of Thessaloniki Police Headquarters.

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Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression was threatened on several occasions.

  • In November, Kostas Vaxevanis, a journalist and magazine editor, was put on trial in Athens for breach of privacy, after he published the names of 2,000 Greeks alleged to have private bank accounts in Switzerland and called for investigations into possible tax evasion. He was acquitted after a day’s hearing. The Prosecutor’s Office of the Athens First Instance Courts appealed, and Kostas Vaxevanis was referred for trial before the Athens Misdemeanours Court.
  • In October, members of extreme Christian groups and the far-right party Golden Dawn, including some MPs, tried to prevent the premiere of the play Corpus Christi, by verbally abusing and threatening the actors and members of the audience. In November, the people who had staged the play were charged with blasphemy.
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