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Greece: Police Violence Against Immigrants on the Rise

Greek social media has been in uproar over a video posted on Facebook and Twitter, showing police officers overtly abusing a detained immigrant in downtown Athens. The incident occured at the end of January 2012, whilst the exact location has not been confirmed.

Motorized police (DIAS in Greek) as well as people in plain clothes, brutalized the detainee, who didn't resist arrest, as the video shows clearly:

According to film director Nikos Soulis, who recorded the incident, the man was burning garbage, endangering the cars parked beside them:

@nikosoulis: @Louki_p he was burning garbage bags..parked cars were endangered. They did well to arrest him, but then what? Why?

Police launched an administrative review over the incident, but the witness stated on Facebook that he wasn't called to testify, although he submitted the video to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece. Administrative reviews, often ineffective, have been ordered in the past over similar incidents.

In response to a comment by the Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis (@chrisochoidis), on the occasion of the anniversary of the military coup of April 21, 1967, journalist Damian Mac Con Uladh (@damomac) urged the minister to take immediate action:

@chrisochoidis: Ακόμη και μια τραυματισμένη δημοκρατία είναι καλύτερη από καθόλου δημοκρατία.

@chrisochoidis: Even an injured democracy is better than no democracy.

@damomac: @chrisochoidis Minister, please assist in helping this “wounded democracy” by dismissing those cops who beat this man!

Although mainstream media mostly ignored the incident, reactions on social media were immediate and intense, and it was also publicized by activists abroad:

@teacherdude: No mention on Greek TV news of savage beating of immigrant in Athens by police caught on video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG4Cf1T8bR4 Hardly surprising.

@SykoFantiS: Υπάρχει κάποιος που πιστεύει ότι η ομάδες ΔΙΑΣ προσφέρουν έργο;

@SykoFantiS: Is there anyone who thinks that the DIAS teams are [serving and protecting]?

@v_emman: Αυτή δεν είναι αστυνομία, είναι συμμορία τραμπούκων. Ντρέπομαι για λογαριασμό σας. http://j.mp/Id5a2W @hellenicpolice

@v_emman: This isn't a police, it's a gang of thugs. I'm ashamed on your behalf. http://j.mp/Id5a2W @hellenicpolice

@libertarian: @hellenicpolice στο 4ο είχα δει να βάζουν κράνος σε κρατούμενο και να τον κλωτσάν στο κεφάλι.

@libertarian: @hellenicpolice I once saw a detainee fitted with a helmet and kicked on the head in the 4th precinct.

Numerous incidents of police violence against immigrants have been documented in the past, while in 2007, the publication of a video showing immigrants being abused in a police precinct caused an international furore. By August 2008, the Greek police had been convicted at least nine times by the European Court of Human Rights for incidents of abuse.

In its trial run, the Network to Record Incidents of Racist Violence recorded 63 incidents during the last 2 months of 2011, of which 18 are linked to police violence, and noted that “racist violence is spreading at a terrifying rate”. In a recent report, in view of the upcoming review of Greece by the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture, international human rights NGO Human Rights Watch called the country's attempts to protect immigrants and vulnerable groups ”totally insufficient”, while in it's annual review for 2011, independent research network RED held up Greece as the most typical example of the outburst of racist violence and impunity in Europe.

During his previous tenure as Citizen Protection Minister, Mr. Chrisochoidis had committed to founding a bureau to address incidents of police abuse:

@chrisochoidis: .@asteris Περί ΓΑΠΑ: αναβαθμίστηκε η διερευνητική του δυνατότητα και αποκτά αυξημένη τυπική ισχύ καθώς θα κυρωθεί με νόμο και όχι με Π.Δ.

@chrisochoidis: .@asteris On GAPA [the bureau]: its investigative capacity has been upgraded, and it acquires increased formal power, as it will be ratified by law, rather than by presidential decree

The ‘Bureau tο Address Abuse Incidents’ was founded by law [el] on March 2011, but has still to become operational. Greek NGO Hellenic League for Human Rights called [el] the legislative act “a clear setback” and “a much worse scenario” than what had originally been announced.

το Γραφείο δεν θα είναι ανεξάρτητος φορέας όπως αρχικά είχε δηλώσει ο Μιχ. Χρυσοχοϊδης και είχε ακολουθήσει μάλιστα και η ανάλογη ηλεκτρονική διαβούλευση, αλλά αυτό που το νέο σχέδιο νόμου προβλέπει είναι μια τριμελής επιτροπή [δικαστικών]. Η επιτροπή αυτή, όπως διευκρινίστηκε δεν θα έχει καμία δυνατότητα διερεύνησης της καταγγελίας αλλά θα κρίνει μόνο αν η καταγγελία θα είναι παραδεκτή, παρεμποδίζοντας ουσιαστικά την ποινική διερεύνηση.

The Bureau will not be an independent agency, as Michalis Chrysochoidis had originally stated, and as the online public consultation had specified, but what the new bill provides for is a tripartite [judiciary] committee. This committee, as clarified, will have no capacity to investigate complaints, but only to rule on whether they are acceptable, essentially inhibiting criminal investigation.

Over 2,400 members have joined a Facebook group [el] created after the brutal crackdown of protests at Syntagma Square, Athens, on June 28-29, 2011, in order to collect documentation on police violence, whilst almost 15,000 members have joined an older Facebook Cause titled ‘Stop Greek police brutality', created on the day after the police killing of 15-year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

Global Voices author Asteris Masouras collaborated in researching and writing this article.

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