December 22, 2011

Trial of Police Officers from St. Panteleimonas ends

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Press Release

The trial of the police officers from St. Panteleimonas implicated in the torture case has ended.The Mixed Jury Criminal Court of Athens, which hears felonies at first instance, today sentenced two policemen (one of whom has already left the police force) to 5 years and 5.5 years imprisonment respectively, in the infamous torture case of Afghan refugees at the St. Panteleimon police station in December 2004. The trial had started on 21 October 2011 and ended on 20 December 2011.

The two defendants (one of whom is still on active duty while the other one, a special guard, left the police force after having completed his 5-year term) were the only members of a larger police team that were referred to trial, after having invaded houses of Afghan refugees and having subjected their residents to various forms of abuse and ill-treatment, in order to obtain information about a fellow Afghan. According to the indictment, in at least two cases the perpetrators had led their victims to the basement garage of St. Panteleimon police station and had subjected them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, acts which the victims described in their testimonies and which were accepted as true by the Ordinance referral. According to the Ordinance, the two officers were referred to trial for having committed felony against those two refugees, and distinct forms of torture and other bodily harm against 11 other refugees - most of whom were minors.

It should be recalled that these events had taken place in December 2004. Subsequently the victims, among whom were many minors, addressed NGOs and other entities that are involved in the protection of refugees and migrants. They sought assistance in order to denounce the attacks and the abuse that had taken place, and protection from the extreme police violence they were exposed to. Action was taken immediately, including amongst others the registration and certification of the alleged torture and inhuman and degrading treatment suffered by the victims, by specialized personnel of the Medical Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture.

The case is of particular importance, since the referral of police officers for trial under the provision of the Penal Code which punishes torture as felony, is very rare.

During the 7 sessions of the hearing, only 5 out of the 13 Afghan victims appeared and testified, while the rest had already fled to other European countries to seek protection there. During the trial, the prosecutor recommended the conversion of the charges from felony order 137 A 1 and 2 (torture and aggravated cases of ill-treatment) to misdemeanour under the same article (137 A, § 3). Eventually the court followed the prosecutor's recommendation and found both defendants guilty of misdemeanour under Article 137A§3 for having caused bodily injury and harm against two Afghan refugees, in breach of their human dignity, and for unprovoked physical harm against 5 more refugees out of the group of 11 (in five cases the victims recognized the perpetrator).

The Court sentenced the first two defendants to 30 months imprisonment with respect to the first two victims and ten months for each incident of unprovoked physical harm. These were merged into 5 years imprisonment for the first defendant, and 5 years and 5 months with respect to the second defendant. The officers were also deprived of their political rights for 5 years and barred from obtaining public and municipal offices and positions for a 10-year period (Article 137G PC). The two defendants were set free after their sentences were suspended pending the outcome of their appeal and converted into monetary penalties.

We note with regret that once again a Greek court has refrained from applying the felony provision of Article 137A § 1 and 2 for the crime of torture, of which the defendants had been initially accused. Incidents of police violence in particular against refugees and migrants have continued unabated since 2004. Yet only a small number of these cases reach the offices of the support organizations and an even smaller number end up in court. Even then, the protection afforded to victims is non-existent, while the very lengthy delays lead to consequent loss of key evidence, since in most cases the victims are absent having left Greece to seek effective protection long before the trial takes place. In this case, a hearing was for the first time held only seven years after the incidents had taken place.

It should be noted that on 14.12.2012, this infamous case of ill-treatment and torture will succumb to the statute of limitations, confirming once again the impunity of those who are guilty when they have the privilege of belonging to the class of the police.

Athens, 20/12/2011
Network of Social Support of Refugees and Migrants
Greek Refugee Council
Hellenic League for Human Rights
Medical Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims
Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees