November 27, 2013

Press Release: Two coast guards convicted of torturing asylum seeker upon entry into Greece

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On 25. November 2013 the Five-Member Naval Court of Piraeus found two out of three accused coast guards guilty for having committed acts of torture against an asylum seeker, including restricting the victim's breathing so as to simulate drowning and suffocation ('wet and dry submarino'), carrying out mock execution, as well as other serious attacks on human dignity, immediately after the victim's entry into Greece and during his transfer with other asylum-seekers to the Port of Chios. The above-mentioned incident was first documented in the report entitled “The truth may be bitter but it must be told – The Situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the Practices of the Greek Coast Guard” by the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants and the NGO Pro-Asyl, which was published in 2007 and has attracted extensive publicity ever since.

The two defendants received suspended jail sentences of 6- and 3-years as well as long-term deprival of their political rights. In addition, one of the convicted coast guards faces demotion once the decision becomes final.

We applaud this latest decision of the military court and we hope that it will act as a deterrent against criminal behaviours towards refugees and migrants of which members of the coast guard, a security corps with military structure, have unfortunately been repeatedly accused in recent years. We recall the case of the racist slogans chanted by members of OYK (Underwater Demolition Team) during the national parade of 25. March 2010; the rape of a Turkish asylum seeker with the use of a bludgeon by coast guards in May 2001 (case of Zontul v. Greece); recent revelations suggesting that there are strong ties between members of the Hellenic Coast Guard and the Golden Dawn, as Golden Dawn proclamations were found printed on the back of official Coast Guard documents; the illegal practice of pushing back asylum seekers trying to enter Greece, as documented by a very recent report by the NGO Pro-Asyl, entitled “Pushed Back – systematic human rights violations against refugees in the Aegean sea and at the Greek-Turkish land border”, published on 7. November 2013.

Even more recent are the allegations about the illegal 'push-back' of 150 Syrian asylum-seekers via the river of Evros, an incident denounced by several organisations as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The fate of these people remains unknown.

We strongly hope that the above-mentioned conviction will serve as an example of respect for human rights to all European countries. Practices of illegal push-backs that put the lives of asylum-seekers at danger have been documented not only in Greece but also all over Europe, in the context of a wider policy the primary purpose of which is to deter illegal migration- even at the eventual cost of human life. 

Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees