The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing

Allegations of Abuse in Greece

From an article today at BBC News entitled Asylum seekers ‘abused’ in Greece

Allegations that Greek police are abusing, threatening and torturing asylum-seekers are clearly taken very seriously in Athens.

The man responsible for the treatment of immigrants, spokesman for the Public Order Department of the Interior Ministry, Athanasios Andreolakos, offers the BBC more than an hour of his time, is well-briefed with specific details to refute claims of mistreatment and is eager to defend his country’s international reputation.

He denies any mistreatment took place – “there is simply no evidence to support this, the allegations are provocative to Greece” – before going on to admit that “no system can be perfect. Any allegations we will certainly pursue, we have zero tolerance for any abuses of this sort”.

The BBC’s Paul Henley spoke to Rodi Suweini about his experience of shocking police brutality and abuse in Greece.

Rodi Suweini is from Baghdad. A serious gunshot wound to his chest and shoulder is testament to his narrow escape from civil war in Iraq.

They tied my hands and my ankles with a rope and pulled me up so that I was suspended from the frame of a window

Other injuries to his face and neck are, he claims, a permanent reminder of his time in the custody of Greek police.

Having crossed the border from Turkey on foot, he was immediately captured and, he says, abused by officers who paid no heed to his claim for asylum.

“First, one of them kicked me in the stomach”, he told me, “and then three of them continued beating me up.

“They hit me across the face, they put a wooden stick to my neck and started to strangle me.

“They accused me of being a people-trafficker. They tied my hands and my ankles with a rope and pulled me up so that I was suspended from the frame of a window and they left me there all day.”

Berit Lindeman works for the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and has visited some of the detention centres here. She described what she saw as appalling and inhumane.

What we saw in Greece… we see in other countries we would not want to be compared to… we are talking about regimes that torture people. We cannot accept this in the middle of Europe

The authorities reaction to this claim is to say that Berit Lindeman is “gullible” (where have I heard that before?). Asylum lawyer Spyros Rizakos is outspoken about that response.

He thinks it a ludicrous idea that his government does not know that some migrants are being mistreated.

“Of course they know,” he says, “because there have been so many reports from organisations like the UNHCR, from the Greek ombudsman and from NGOs like Amnesty and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

“To ignore them is a sinful policy, something tragic. And I am doing my best to denounce it and to stop it.”

The article goes on to talk about the fact that asylum issues are a European problem not just a Greek one and that Greece deals with more than its fair share of asylum seekers because of its position in Europe and its extensive shoreline. This should not be confused with being an excuse to abuse asylum seekers.

There is also a brief mention of racism in Greece. Maria Kagkelidou, a journalist for the Athens News newspaper is quoted as saying

Some people are inherently racist here. Therefore, I would not say they would condone mistreatment of immigrants by the Greek police, but they would not be particularly surprised by it. And they would certainly not be up in arms about it

A sentiment I have heard many times here on this blog. You can read the full article here.

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  1. The Greek with No Name
    June 12, 2008    

    “UNHCR and NGOs like Amnesty and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)”.

    Now there is a real credible bunch of people.

    Where were when Greeks were recently murdered in Northern Epirus?

  2. June 12, 2008    

    > Some people are inherently racist here. Therefore, I would not
    > say they would condone mistreatment of immigrants by the
    > Greek police, but they would not be particularly surprised by it.
    > And they would certainly not be up in arms about it.

    This sentence captures pretty well the state of affairs. When I was about 12 years old I remember hearing my aunt saying that in the ship which had docked in the Harbor on that day there were black sailors, therefore we should lock the door of our home on that night. I guess that must have been considered a pretty reasonable piece of advice to be given by an aunt living on an island of the Cyclades, and possibly also quite reasonable to be heeded by her nephews etc. The fact that it stroke me as completely absurd was due to me being completely out of sync with the norm for that little island society, not her. The problem is that although this kind of aunt probably would not willingly participate in a far-west style chase and public execution of those black sailors, she probably would not say much in protest, either.

    Diagoras of Meloss last blog post..WordPress feature request: Hall of Shame

  3. Is This Even True?
    June 12, 2008    

    I don’t actually believe this Iraqi guys story. Whilst I can believe that that he got beaten up by the police. I don’t believe they suspended him from a window frame all day. I mean, why would they? Or specifically why would they do it to him? Or are we to believe that this is the normal practise that happens to everyone?

    I think this guy is perhaps telling a story in the hope it would increase his chances of being allowed asylum.

    I think an organisation such as the BBC should point out that this is one mans tale of unverifiable facts.

  4. June 12, 2008    

    Depends, id they indeed believed he was a “trafficker” they would this and much more as to discourage them. As practice it is common in EU with direct borders with immigration trafficking, Spain-Italy and Greece.

    The difference is that for the rest other countries do provide minimal care for the refugees and asylum is indeed an option, where in Greece people and Government simply do not care.

    By the way the last paragraph was right on the nail!

    abravanels last blog post..The Last Greeks on Broome Street

  5. George
    June 13, 2008    

    To “is this even true”: If what you say is true then shouldn’t we give the benefit of the doubt to the US soldiers at Gitmo? Sure, many terrorists held there could now start to join the bandwagon of “Hey Americans hurt me too”. At what point does truth veer into fiction.

    Sure, abuse happens in Greece and the USA, but does it happen to the extent that the media makes us think.

    I have to consider you may be right, but then you may have to consider that the soldiers at Gitmo may be right once in awhile.

    But, in closing, I’ll say that the goal of us as decent humans should be to rid the world of any torturous practices.

    Hopefully Mr. Obama will set that in motion.

  6. The Greek with No Name
    June 13, 2008    

    I caught a taxi a few years ago in the Diaspora and the driver was a Kurdish Iraqi who spent some years in Greece. He said Greeks are the kindest people he has ever met. Treated very well by the authorities. However, they would not provide him with citizenship and decided to migrate to the southern hemisphere. Some of the accusations by these “human rights” organisations are spurious to say the least and political motivated.

    By the way a recent Gallop poll showed that 7 out of 10 Greeks disaprove of homosexual marriage. I suppose you cannot go against democracy.

    Abravanel, accusations of racism cannot stop dialogue and discourse. I suggest you engage in some yourself rather than trying to fling slogans around.

  7. June 13, 2008    

    i don’t think that there is any question as to kindness and goodness of the vast majority of Greek people. As in all countries though, there is a need to check on and report what the people in power are up to. The police and the coastguard here have been accused of brutality and abuse on too many occasions for it to be ignored.

    Please note this post from Teacher Dude about the documentary programme by the Reportage Horis Synora team (Reporting Without Borders) on police violence in Greece. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the episode but I watched the documentary that followed about police brutality in Britain. There are so many families and communities there who are fighting for justice in cases of unlawful killing by police officers. They are getting away with it because the police are investigating the police. I am sure that no-one here wants to see this happening in Greece too.

    If anyone saw the programme, could they please comment on it here. Here are some notes from the website about last nights programme:

    Some Sporadic Incidents – Thursday, June 12, at 22:00, on ET1

    Reportage Without Frontiers presents a big research regarding cases of police arbitrariness in Greece.

    On March 2007, during a students’ mass demonstration, unknown people enkindle the guard-house of the “Unknown Soldier” monument in Sydagma. The police arrests 48 students, which are finally dismissed. Some of them talk to Reportage Without Frontiers for the beatings during their arrest as well as for the weird circumstances of their detention.

    Two months later, Panagiotis Ketikis, one of the students who was arrested and was later dismissed, goes to a party in his University, in Thessaloniki. A bit further away, some people with covered faces enkindle parked cars. The policemen notice that one of them wears green shoes. During his return home, Panagiotis is arrested. The only incriminating evidence: his green shoes. In a video that gets around in between his fellow students, it is shown bright clear that Panagiotis has nothing to do with the perpetrator. Despite that, Panagiotis was detained in Avlona prisons for one and a half month.

    In November 2006 violent episodes took place during the annual march for the uprising of Polytechnyo, in Thessaloniki. Amongst the arrested is also a student from Cyprus. The same night, Avgoustinos Dimitriou gets injured and is hospitalized, whereas the police announced that he was self-injured because he fell onto a jardinière. However, the news bulletins present a completely different picture… Policemen with and without their uniforms seem to beat the young student.

    Reportage Without Frontiers uncovers sworn testimonies and official notes, which adopt the “jardinière scenario”. One of the policemen writes in his testimony that “in his attempt to escape he fell onto a jardinière, entraining us too to the ground…”.

    However, the “jardinière” case might have never happened if some of the policemen had been punished from justice for previous incidents. In 2001, in Ano Toumpa of Thessaloniki, a group of policemen stopped a car for a regular ID check. Panagiotis Galochkin, a passenger of the car, was led to the police station and was beaten up. One of the policemen – perpetrators also participated to the beating of Avgoustinos Dimitriou.

    Our country has being convicted 7 times from the European Court for police violence incidents.

    In November 2001, a young Albanian dies from a policeman bullet, in Ameriki Square, during his arrest operation. An ocular witness as well as the sister of the victim talks to Reportage Without Frontiers for that particular case, revealing many unknown aspects. The Greek State was convicted for both the investigation of the case as well as for the deficiencies of the police operation. Despite all that, the “policeman – perpetrator” is still on duty.

    The same year, the police swoop in a Gipsies’ camp in Aspropyrgos. A group of policemen entered the house of Giannoula Tsakiri, which was pregnant at the time. She alleges that after a policeman’s kick, she miscarried. The European Court convicted Greece for both the case’s investigation as well as for the racist motives of the policeman who was in charge of the operation. This is the most recent conviction for Greece.

    The Internal Investigations that are ordered for this kind of cases had been proved ineffective. Christos Chronopoulos was arrested in Kallithea because he disturbed the customers of a cafeteria. A few hours later he was transported to Thriasio hospital with serious lesions in the head. The findings of the Internal Investigation absolved the policemen.

    Some Sporadic Incidents blemish the complete image of the Greek Police. Which are the causes and how can they stop existing? Which are the responsibilities of the Greek Justice? Which is the right training for the policemen, in order to fulfill their demands as well as respecting human rights?

    deviousdivas last blog post..DD Live

  8. June 14, 2008    

    DD, I saw the programme on Thursday and what it showed tgime and time again is thbat the police are accountable to no one. the same officers are investigated for allegations of brutality and then either not punished at all or given a slap on the wrist.

    The case of the mentally ill person from Larissa was particularly tragic as the person was sick. he was arrested for creating a disturbance and beaten so badly by the police whilst in custoday that the in a semi – vegative state.

    As for “unreliable” foreign organisations such as Amnesty International and UNCHR, well, I give more credence to what they say then most politicians and certainly most senior police officers who, as the documentary showed bend over backwards to protect the thugs in their ranks.

    We shouldn’t forget that Greece has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights seven times and found guilty. In addition according to Eleutherotypia newspaper 30 people have died in police custody or prison this year alone.

    finally, I like to finish on a personal note as a victim of police violence myself I see that there are no serious attempts to curb their violence by the state or the legal system. My case has been hindered at every single stage by the police, indeed at one point the police refused my lawyer entry to a police station in order to collect relevent documents.

    Craigs last blog post..Out the window

  9. June 14, 2008    

    i just found the figures. They were for the first half of 2007 and are quoted in a report by the Greek section of Amnesty International (in Greek).

    Actually, the total number of deaths in custody was 52 in 2007 according to the newspaper. èáíáôïé&a=&id=32081432

    Craigs last blog post..Out the window

  10. June 14, 2008    

    Thank you for responding here, Craig. I am shocked by the Eleftherotypia article figure that “30 people have died in police custody or prison this year alone”.

  11. Xenos
    June 15, 2008    

    One of the most sad things about Greeks is how they cannot face reality. In this case, it is about how hundreds of independent accounts from victims of violence, expert reports, judicial enquiries and rulings from the highest courts of Europe are all irrelevant. What really matters is that Greece shouldn’t look bad, so let’s deny the reality and accuse everyone else of lying.

    Pathetic people. That means you, Greek with no name.

  12. Cyngin
    June 16, 2008    

    To Xenos and his “pathetic people” statement,

    Please enlighten us as to what your country of origin is so we can hold it up as the exemplar of nobility, honesty, caring, blah blah blah…

  13. Cyngin
    June 16, 2008    

    2 things:

    The first, why are my comments still held in moderation? I read your comment policy. I still fail to see why. It brings the discussion in comments down to a snail’s pace.

    The second, if the site owner allows slandering such as Xeno’s statement, then questioning his country of origin is certainly within acceptable discourse in order for “pathetic people” to have something to strive for.

  14. Xenos
    June 16, 2008    

    It is not slander to describe an unfortunate reality for those of us living in Greece. Actually, it was not my intention to refer to Greeks living outside Greece: I should have said “most Greeks in Greece”. My, or anyone else’s, country of origin is of no relevance. What matters here is the standard of behaviour and way of thinking by the majority in Greece. As I seem to recall from a previous post, Cyngin, you do not live in Greece. It follows, therefore, that you have no understanding of this issue.

  15. necati zontul
    June 22, 2008    

    Appalled that there are still people here who doubt that abuse is going on. Of course the iraqi victim is telling the truth. I suffered worse than him (in a way) 7 years ago and everything has been done since then by the authorities to whitewash the event and to let my assailants go free even though they were found guilty in 2004 after I made sure enough international pressure was put on Greece to embarrass it into holding the court case so casually promised. Subsequent promises of trials have not been honoured, and I suppose the authorities think the problem will go away (like Olga B, maybe, or Joseph Emeke Okeke). The background to all this lies in the racist nonsense trumpeted by people like the former archbishop Christodoulos who said “all turks are barbarians”. In fact, he said this on the same day that my partner approached his office for his help, so we take that to be his response. The Archbishop never apologised and the Church has offered no apology or expression of regret since. It is a sorry indictment of “Greek” Orthodoxy. And my partner Tim Wilson, with this in mind wrote a letter to the Athens News a few weeks ago pointing to paintings of an icon by Photios Kontoglou that celebrated the abuse of a group of Greek refugees. When the shoe is on the other foot…(there is no philotimo displayed here, and little evidence that there would be another cheek turned).
    I have heard many stories now of torture in Greece. mock executions, rape, russian roulette as well as humiliations and so on. Most stories do not make it to the news and none make it to court because the victims are frightened- they may have given false names, and they may have been told that to testify would endanger their chances of asylum or a better life in Europe. Also, regrettably, they may be getting help from a number of seriously compromised NGOs in Athens.
    I have seen some of the documents that were collected about me and many are laughable. I visited the Torture rehabilitation centre 3 times and eventually tried to get details of my two interviews with a psychiatrist there. What I received was a bundle of illegible and irrelevant scribble that paid no attention to the story I was telling about my torture at the hands of the Greek Coastguard. Similarly, I found that the Greek Council for Refugees sat on an important document that I gave them and that they assured me would be translated into Greek. This testimony clearly rebutted the nonsense “translated” by a woman on Crete, and had the GCR done what they said they would do, alot of unnecessary trouble would have been avoided.
    Because the racism and homophobia is so endemic, I have now discovered that some of those who assaulted me used the excuse that they did so because they thought I was gay! In no other country in the EU would this be offered as a defence and quite frankly, I feel sorry for the poor fools who thought this sort of response was appropriate!
    Greece needs to grow up – or rather the Greek authorities need to grow up! And the first sign of maturity will be to take proper responsibility for what they do, and at the same time to promote a climate where healthy debate exists and where nationalism learns its proper place. there are other countries with nationalist agenda who look to Europe for an example. It is shocking to think that this sort of rubbish is what they see.
    After 7 years, nearly 8 now- I would expect torture in Greece to have stopped. It has not. More than that, it is clear that the torture case I brought against my assailants , though nominally successful, is not recognised by the government: if the authorities claim Berit Lindeman is “gullible”, they clearly have paid no attention to the condemnation of Dandoulakis and Vardakis- and indeed their associates.
    Well done Devious diva for keeping this story alive.
    But such is the state of denial, I fear there are many years of campaigning ahead.

  16. June 23, 2008    

    Thank you very much Necati, for coming and taking the time to share your very personal story with us. I am appalled too and I am certain that many other readers here are too. The most striking thing that I read in your comment was:

    Because the racism and homophobia is so endemic, I have now discovered that some of those who assaulted me used the excuse that they did so because they thought I was gay! In no other country in the EU would this be offered as a defence and quite frankly, I feel sorry for the poor fools who thought this sort of response was appropriate!

    This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know what to say. I hope that one day, the people involved in your case are brought to justice and that people here will be made aware of what is really happening to some people in this country. Denial is one of the biggest problems. A case of “If we deny or ignore that it is happening, it will go away. Or at the very least, we won’t have to deal with it”

    I wish you well in your pursuit of justice, Necati, and hope you find peace in your life after your horrific experience. Please let us know about any progress in your case.

  17. June 23, 2008    

    I cannot believe the gay excuse. I do not think it could have been made in any kind of official context. Among the cops, jokingly, maybe. (You know, that sly, filthy poor excuse for humour that cops use among them.)

    In any case, I admire your last paragraph, Necati, where you talk of “many years of campaigning ahead”, instead of just declaring the whole situation in this country simply hopeless.

    ???????? (Diagoras)s last blog post..WordPress feature request: Hall of Shame

  18. necati zontul
    June 23, 2008    

    Diagoras challenges the witness testimony I have quoted. I am happy to provide some choice quotes from a number of testimonies that have failed to come to the public eye. I can only assume the courts wished to suppress them. When, indeed, the GHM briefed the Athens news about the case, apart from a list of seriously injured people, the worst that could be cited was that one prisoner were made to “jump like a rabbit”. I do not know where this came from and quite frankly it has always seemed to me to belittle the sort of humiliating and abusive things that happened to us. The rabbit thing is repeated quite alot in association with mention of the rape I suffered. I was certainly not asked to jump like a rabbit.

    I have testimony from two other victims who talk of russian roulette and one of being made to place a noose around his neck and then to jump from a chair. He had every belief that he was going to die. He also privately told me that he, too, had been raped in the same way that I was raped. He was too ashamed to put that into writing.

    But we need to get this straight: Greek torture is routine and ongoing and also protected by the machinery of the State- the law-courts, military, police, Church and a number of prominent so-called human rights’ organisation. A few promises and some general words of disapproval do not make for any confidence in the system especially when worthy cases do not get to court, and when victims (like me) receive no apology or offers of compensation; indeed, when, as was my case, men had been found guilty of torture and the Government failed – and still fails- to issue a statement of non-recurrence or to offer to the victims the slightest hint of sympathy. -delays, threats and distortions of testimony are commonplace. The Government and specific lawyers may not be directly responsible, but they MUST assume responsibity for what is done by thugs in their name.
    I have spoken in the past about my shock at finding my initial testimony severely truncated, my allegation that I was raped reduced to a “slap” and my demand that my assailants be punished reduced to a negative: “No, I do not want them to be punished!”. Later, a court prosecutor tried to coerce me to endorse this absurd travesty of my witness testimony by asking me about it in Greek, a language I did not speak, and in the complete absence of a translator. This was despite being summonsed to Crete to a formal hearing. The name of the prosecutor is Michaelis Apostoleides. GHM wrote to him asking for an explanation. I am not aware that any reply was ever forthcoming, yet, despite this, and despite a number of letters that I wrote to the Ministry of Merchant Marine demanding such explanation, his name appears on further court papers and he seems to have been involved in the appeal in 2006 which acquitted a number of my alleged assailants.

    As I was also threatened by men with guns, I hope you will forgive my feeling that the stink of corruption in modern Greek policing and in law is astonishing, and though I certainly do not imply that Mr Apostoleides is himself the author of such corruption, the decision to ignore the requests of GHM and my own repeated letters over a period of nearly 5 years (also sent to the President and Prime Minister) suggest a degree of stupidity that is in itself culpable.

    1) from the 2004 court papers:”Necati Zontul in the presence of the Port Master pointed out Dandoulakis and Vardakis as the perpetrators of the sexual abuse against him. I called them to appear before the Port Master and they were laughing. Dandoulakis told us then that Necati Zontul attacked them while he was naked and Dandoulakis beat Zontul’s bottom attempting to defend himself. Then, I asked him “how did he attack you with his bottom?” He did not convince me…” This follows a discussion punctuated with a general confusion between a “bathroom” and a “toilet”: the confusion exists because of the confusion in the greek word for both (bagnio), but of course, I suspect it was an attempt to explain how I could possibly allege that a truncheon was inserted into my bottom if I was fully clothed or indeed, as had been the case, I was washing my hands after using the lavatory.

    there is also a suggestion that there was a quarrel among the detainees about who might use the shower. No such quarrel took place and indeed the detainees were unanimous and united in going on hunger strike to protest at my treatment.

    Again and again is the reference that “he is a homosexual”. I certainly made no such claim, but it is given again and again as a part of the defence.

    In the initial EDE: “A group of illegal immigrants moved threateningly against them and as a result, Dandoulakis used his club for their defence”

    This is a fascinating paragraph, describing how one of the soldiers kept me on my own BECAUSE the assumed I was gay! The description of events following is fairly consistent with the truth, though it allows for discussion about whether or not the truncheon was fully inserted/ was I penetrated by it.
    2nd EDE: p 151 “.. and when he realised that Necati Zontul was a homosexual, isolated him in a toilet, forced him to bend his body forwards , placed the club lightly at the lower part of the legs raising it slowly to the anus. Then he forced him to stand up and pout his hands on the wall, obliged him to take off his trousers…”

    2) Dandoulakis statement: “I kicked him very hard in the bottom with a glob(sic)” Official Grek translation!!!…”He gave the impression he was homosexual”

    3)”isolated him, in the bathroom for the reason only that he is homosexual”

    another defence was that Dandoulakis intervened because he felt I might attack his friend Vardakis.

    Finally, it is noted in the appeal papers that the claims of torture successfully delayed our expulsion from Greece and may have helped in our efforts to get asylum. I am pleased to report that I live in the EU without recourse to asylum and indeed that when I entered Greece I had all my legal papers including a passport with me. My passport was torn up by one of the thugs who held me in detention. If current laws which will mean an automatic imprisonment for undocumented migrants that are now being debated, had been in force then. I would have received a gaol sentence and Dandoulakis and Vardakis would still have walked free. That is something to consider for the many Greeks whose parents fled to Greece from Turkey, and whose families travelled seeking work across the globe. Greece, after all, has historically been one of the biggest migrant nations and – let’s face it, we are the better for it and modern Greece, to judge by its current wayward administration is the poorer.

    I hope this helps to clarify that the gay issue was not some dirty sniggering between uniformed soldiers, but bizarrely a written part of their defence.
    Meanwhile, Thankyou, Diagoras for raising this and asking for details, and thankyou for noting my last paragraph.
    I stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who has been abused- Albanian, Kurd, Turk, Nigerian and even Greek: in the end, it is about changing the way the authorities behave.

    Oh, and incidentally, the fact that 7/10 Greeks condemn gay marriage does not speak of democracy as we understand the word!- only of ignorance and a lack of education. In fact, it speaks more accurately of “democracy” in the sense that Plato understood it – namely of mob rule that is the worst possible government and the worst political rule. A savage untamed beast.

    I would be very pleased to have details of the 7 times so far that Greece has been taken to the ECHR and been found guilty, Craig!!

  19. Xenos
    June 24, 2008    

    Necati: I am sure that all decent people reading this blog will be horrified to read your accounts. On my own part, I am familiar with much of your own case, and am continuously disgusted by the criminality and corruption that constitutes a major part of the Greek state. The coastguard seem to be particularly inclined to criminal behaviour, but the real problem lies in the entire judicial system. Greece has the dubious distinction of being one of the very few countries outside of the Middle East where the law is not respected by lawyers, judges and courts. This is the real dirtiness of Greece, and is something denied on a daily basis by the corrupted politicians and powerful “families” of Greece.

    The only solution is exactly what you (and others) are doing — that is, providing continual detailed evidence of their crimes, lies and corruption. In the end, they will be humiliated and something will change. Europe has started to understand what is going on over here in Greece, although it has taken more than 20 years for people to start speaking openly about the criminal element in the Greek state system.

  20. stori
    January 4, 2009    

    It is unacceteble for Human beings to treat Migrants so badly .I think we must accept Human rights. Ammenstry international,and UNHCR reports,in which are written That the Greece Government is fail to give Right Fefuges like AFganistan and Iraq where are WAr still continious.We hope that EU othere Lands will follow Norway Finnland and Germany not to sent any Migrant back to Grrec.