A long-standing culture of impunity, entrenched racism and endemic violence, including the excessive use of force against protesters and ill-treatment of migrants and refugees, has been exposed by Amnesty International’s research into policing in Greece. It follows an official investigation into links between police and Golden Dawn.
By December last year nearly 50 people, including the leader of Golden Dawn, two police officers and five MPs, were arrested and charged with offences ranging from murder and causing explosions, to blackmail. Ten police officers were found to have direct or indirect links with criminal activities attributed to Golden Dawn members.
Now Amnesty International’s report, A law unto themselves: A culture of abuse and impunity in the Greek police, exposes the many and persistent human rights violations by law enforcement officials. It details the root and branch nature of the lack of accountability and the failure to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into complaints.
“Our investigation shows that the Golden Dawn debacle is only the tip of the iceberg. Entrenched racism, excessive use of force and deep-rooted impunity are a blight on the Greek police. Successive Greek governments have so far failed to acknowledge, let alone tackle, these human rights violations by police and on-going impunity,“ said Jezerca Tigani, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“There is an urgent need for a comprehensive structural reform of law enforcement including the creation of an independent police complaint mechanism to investigate allegations of unlawful police conduct. The Greek authorities must restore the public confidence in Greek law enforcement structures.”
Amnesty International has been documenting the unlawful behaviour of police in Greece over many years. Its new research looks at the situation over the last two years and concludes that it remains bleak.
At the end of March 2014, police at Nigrita Prison, in northern Greece, reportedly beat to death an inmate in solitary confinement. The autopsy revealed that he was extensively beaten on the soles of his feet and his chest, and that he had burns on his hands.
In the past three years, there has been a dramatic escalation in hate attacks against refugees and migrants. Hate crimes have also been recorded against the Roma community and the LGBTI community. Law enforcement officials have reportedly failed to prevent such attacks and/or have failed to investigate the hate motive behind them.
“With their actions Greek police pander to xenophobic far-right groups who are intent on attacking anyone who does not conform to their idea of mainstream society,” said Jezerca Tigani.
“Police have been used as an indiscriminate tool by the authorities. Instead of maintaining law and order, all too often they have been tasked with stifling dissent and persecuting members of vulnerable groups. Their actions have been left without independent scrutiny and their transgressions unpunished. This has to change.”
On 17 September 2013, Pavlos Fyssas, a musician and anti-fascist activist, was stabbed to death in Keratsini, a suburb of the capital Athens, by a member of Golden Dawn. Eyewitnesses told the national media that eight police officers belonging to the DIAS motorized police unit were already present at the scene when Pavlos Fyssas and his friends were ambushed by members of the far-right, but they did not intervene when Pavlos was chased by some of them and subsequently stabbed by Giorgos Roupakias.
On the following day, riot police dispersed demonstrators protesting against the murder of Pavlos Fyssas with batons and chemicals. Thirty one protesters sought medical treatment, many of them with head injuries. The protesters reported that they had been beaten with police batons, helmets and shields. They were pelted with stones by members of far-right groups while riot police stood by and failed to protect them. Gavril, a 32-year-old protester, lost his right eye and had undergone three operations by the end of October 2013.
The case of Pavlos Fyssas prompted a major police investigation into the activities of Golden Dawn and links with the police.
Brutal treatment of refugees and migrants
Police in Greece are tasked with controlling migration and detaining and deporting irregular migrants. Under the ongoing sweep operation “Xenios Zeus” between April 2012 and June 2013 more than 120,000 foreign nationals were stopped for identity checks. Of those, only nearly 7,000, or about five per cent, were found without identity papers.
K, a Syrian refugee, described his ill-treatment by police at the Corinth immigration detention centre in February 2013: “ The same policeman began to kick me … I tried to stand and the policeman hit me again … then he asked two police officers to take me to a room where I could not be seen by other detainees … [In the room] the policemen started kicking my chest … then a policeman slapped me and started beating me with his fists on my face .”
In January 2013, two Greek nationals stabbed to death S. Luqman, a Pakistani national living in Greece. However, police and prosecutors did not take into account the possible racist motive of the attack. The killing of S. Luqman showed many of the elements of an organized racially motivated attack by a “hit squad” linked with Golden Dawn. Their trial is currently on-going.
In September 2013, a Greek woman was recorded on camera kicking a Roma girl playing the accordion on a pedestrian street under the Acropolis in Athens. The police opened an investigation into the incident and the alleged hate motive only after the insistence of the non-governmental organization, Greek Helsinki Monitor.