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Greece

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Last updated on 06.12.2018 at 13:33

Greece - Overview

As Greece’s refugee reception system struggled to cope with the numbers of refugees entering the country in recent years, large numbers of local and international civil society organisations helped to provide humanitarian relief to migrants.

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Humanitarian workers released on bail, still face serious charges

Humanitarian workers released on bail, still face serious charges

Four humanitarian NGO workers, who had been providing assistance to refugees and migrants on the island of Lesvos, were released on bail on 4th December 2018. They still face serious charges, including espionage and people smuggling, which could result in jail sentences of up to 25 years.

Association

As the CIVICUS Monitor has previously reported, in August and September 2018 Greek police arrested four humanitarian volunteers and activists for allegedly helping migrants "illegally" enter the country. After months in detention, on 4th December 2018, the four - Sarah Mardini, Sean Binder, Nassos Karakitsos and Panos Moraitis - were released on bail, although they still face a range of serious criminal charges, including people smuggling, which carry a sentence of up to 25 years. 

Amnesty International labelled the charges "absurd". Kondylia Gougou, Amnesty International’s Greece Researcher said:

“This case is just the latest example of how authorities are mis-using anti-smuggling laws to target activists and criminalize rescue. To detain dedicated volunteer humanitarians who helped people in need defies logic. People who selfless act in these ways should be lauded not imprisoned. These baseless charges should be dropped.”

Earlier, on 5th November 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an analysis of court records and other documents in the cases of two of those arrested, Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder. According to HRW, the criminal accusations against the volunteers appear to be entirely unfounded. Bill Van Esveld, senior children's rights researcher at HRW said:

“Accusations of money laundering, people smuggling, and espionage appear no more than an effort to criminalize humanitarian activism on behalf of refugees and migrants in Greece. These charges should be dropped, and the activists should be freed.”

Peaceful Assembly

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continues to be an integral part of Greek political culture. Protests, strikes and large-scale gatherings are regularly held throughout the country, most of them peacefully, without interference or disruption by authorities. Some recent examples of peaceful protests in 2018 include:

  • On 26th September hundreds protested the brutal killing of LGBTQ activist Zak Kostopoulos in Athens. The protesters wanted to call attention to the growing number of violent crimes against minorities and marginalised communities in Greece.
  • On 11th October culture ministry workers staged a strike and shut the ancient Acropolis down to protest the potential inclusion of several landmarks in a fund of assets for privatisation.
  • On 8th November taxi drivers in Athens protested the unfair competition from ride-hailing operators.
  • On 14th November the union representing civil servants held a 24-hour strike and a protest rally to Parliament to demand an increase in salaries and pensions.
  • On 19th November members of the union representing municipal workers held a protest aiming to draw attention to recent fatalities suffered by some workers.
  • On 20th November driving instructors protested to demand certain benefits, including insurance in case of accidents.

In the past two months, however, there were also a number of protests that turned violent. A few examples below:

  • On 29th October a student protest against education reform turned violent. Protesters threw stones, flares and petrol bombs at police who set off tear gas in response.
  • On 31st October a rally to protest a fatal police shooting of an Albanian-Greek citizen, Constantinos Katsifas, in Albania turned violent. The police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.
  • On 17th November more than ten thousands took part in a demonstration marking the 45th anniversary of a 1973 student uprising against the military junta that ruled the country from 1967 to 1974 and saw at least 24 people killed. 

After the march ended, clashes broke out between police and protesters. The police fired tear gas at the demonstrators who threw chairs or threw petrol bombs at police. The clashes continued late into the night with the police bringing a water cannon to disperse rioters and put out fires. 19 protesters were arrested, a few others were provisionally detained but later released. Two police officers were injured. Similar clashes took place in Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki, albeit in a smaller scale

While many protests in Greece are well police, there are also some concerns about the frequency of the abuses of police powers in Greece.

Association

Greek law protects freedom of association, a right with is mostly protected in practise. Certain violations have however been documented in which police have failed to protect refugee groups or gatherings of migrants.

Greek law protects freedom of association, a right with is mostly protected in practise. Certain violations have however been documented in which police have failed to protect refugee groups or gatherings of migrants. In the past, Greek civil society has experienced problems with groups representing minorities not being allowed to register. Some LGBTI groups and groups representing the minority Romany community have also been the target of violent attacks. Positively, the Greek parliament has passed a law extending civil unions to same-sex couples, thus signalling the potential improvement of conditions for LGBTI groups. In the wake of the refugee crisis, NGOs and volunteers providing humanitarian assistance reported harassment through the courts and verbal abuse by the police. In January 2016, a Ministerial Decision put all NGOs in Lesbos directly under state control and refused to recognise the operations of independent and unregistered NGOs, effectively criminalising them.


Peaceful Assembly

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is well-respected in Greece.

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is well-respected in Greece. This extends to protests organised by civil society, strikes by labour unions and campaign events by political parties and their supporters. Anti-austerity demonstrations in recent years have however tested the boundaries of the right to assemble in practice. Some demonstrations took a violent turn with police attempting to disperse protests using teargas and stun grenades. A similarly heavy-handed approach to protest was employed by police in 2016 when farmers marched on the capital to protest against tax increases.


Expression

While free expression is protected by law in Greece, some limits have been imposed, for instance the 2014 criminalising denial of the Holocaust.

While free expression is protected by law in Greece, some limits have been imposed, for instance the 2014 criminalising denial of the Holocaust. A robust media exists with both private and public outlets, however concerns about attempts to stifle media by individuals in the government have been reported. Online expression is mostly unhindered, and there are no restrictions on accessing the internet in Greece. Some journalists have been assaulted and intimidated while covering anti-austerity demonstrations in the past few years. Journalists have also not been spared attacks by members of the extreme right wing political party Golden Dawn. In particular, violations against photojournalists are largely not investigated and perpetrators have not faced appropriate legal consequences.  Reporters are also legitimately concerned about the use of judicial harassment especially against investigative media. Finally, the closure of public media during the drive for austerity was widely criticised as a denial of access to information for millions of citizens.