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Greece: Court must consider hate motive behind attack on Romani woman

Any failure of a court in Messolonghi, western Greece, to consider the racist motive in the brutal attack on a Romani woman and her nephew will be a failure of justice, Amnesty International said ahead of the opening of the trial, on 4 November, of three men accused of causing serious bodily harm during an attack two years ago.

In October 2012, Paraskevi Kokoni, and her nephew Kostas, who has a learning disability, were beaten by a group of local men in a violent attack while they were out shopping in the town of Etoliko, western Greece. Her 11-year-old son could only look on as they were punched, kicked and beaten with logs. Paraskevi told Amnesty International that she was singled out as a relative of a local Roma leader. The attack took place amongst a series of vicious racist raids on Roma families in the same town between August 2012 and January 2013.

“Justice for Paraskevi and her nephew has been slow in coming. It won’t be full if the court does not take into account the strong evidence of the racist motive behind the attack: something that the police conspicuously ignored during the investigation,” said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“The court must fully recognize the hate intent behind the assault in considering this case – that will send a strong message that racism and discrimination will not be tolerated and will help protect Roma people across Greece from further attacks.”

Hate crimes are a form of discrimination and justice requires that the hate motivation in such crimes be given full consideration by the courts. It is essential that the prosecution presents all the evidence to the court that this was part of a series of racially motivated attacks against Roma residents in Etoliko.

Paraskevi told Amnesty International that in October 2012 as they were passing the main square in Etoliko, a man sitting at a local café pointed at them identifying her as the sister-in-law of the local Roma leader. Then six or seven men ran out of the café towards them and attacked them.

Before this attack there had been tension between Roma and non-Roma in the town and she had been the victim of one of a series of vicious racist raids on Roma homes by groups chanting anti-Roma slogans and threats in the same town. Attacks against Roma continued and many Roma people have fled their homes to escape the on-going intimidation and violence, during which houses were set on fire.

''I only hope that those who attacked me are convicted and punished for what they have done to me,'' Paraskevi told Amnesty International.

Legal provisions aimed at combating hate crimes have been in place in Greece for several years and, formally, they comply with provisions of European Union (EU) law requiring that racist or xenophobic motives be treated under the law and by the courts with appropriate gravity. However, investigators frequently fail to examine possible racist motives, and prosecutors rarely present such evidence in court.

“The Greek criminal justice system is failing to take hate crimes seriously. This needs to change. Police, prosecutors and judges must be made aware of their obligations to investigate hate crimes diligently and ensure that they are punished,” said Fotis Filippou.