Growing concern over increased police brutality during protests

Peaceful Assembly

According to a number of media reports, incidents of police brutality have significantly increased since the centre-right New Democracy Party came into power in July 2019. During elections, Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government made promises to bring law and -order reform and security to the country.

In the past few months there has been an increase in the number of reports of police officers using excessive force against peaceful protesters. On 17th November 2019 over 20,000 people marched to mark the 46th anniversary of the Polytechnic Uprising in 1973, when students helped to topple the military government. The march was mostly peaceful. However, the protest later erupted in violence. Thirty-three people were arrested, while two police officers were injured. Some reports include:

  • One student protester claims that police randomly attacked her and a friend after the rally as they walked to a nearby kiosk to buy food. She reports that police used tear gas, pushed her to the ground, kicked her and stomped on her head. She was then arrested, strip searched at the police station and detained overnight.
  • A journalist who was covering the march reports that police attacked him, even though he identified himself as a member of the press. He was attacked after he live streamed police using excessive force.

Following the attack on the journalist, Reporters without Borders released a statement calling for an improvement in police training.

The police must be given not only training but also an explicit order to respect journalists who are just doing their job by covering riots and other events. The new Greek government should make a point of no longer tolerating such excesses and violence against journalists”- Pauline Adès-Mevel, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.

On 6th December 2019 thousands marched in Exarcheia, a neigbourhood in the capital city Athens, to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of police riots in 2008 which killed 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos. Police arrested 12 protesters and detained another 48 during clashes. Media reports describe how radical youth protesters threw stones, bottles and petrol bombs and chanted “Cops, pigs, murderers”. 

Amnesty International’s Greek division believes that the long list of reports of excessive force used by police officers against protestors and journalists are not "isolated cases", but recurring incidents that “support and fuel a prevailing culture of impunity.” In their press release, Amnesty called on the authorities to clearly signal that such violent behaviour would not be tolerated. Police brutality is not a new phenomenon in Greece. The European Court of Human Rights has convicted the country in more than ten cases in the past relating to torture and brutality against detainees.

Association and Peaceful Assembly

Workers strike over proposed anti-trade union law

On 24th September and 2nd October 2019 public sector workers staged strikes over a proposed law which plans to deregulate the labour sector. The strike was organised by the General Confederation of Workers in Greece (GSEE), Greece's largest union, which represents around 2,5 million workers.

Airport, railway services staff and journalists took part in the strike which brought many services to a standstill.Striking workers marched through Athens city chanting ‘Hands off strikes, hands off unions!” The union claims that the proposed law will create additional hurdles for them in terms of planning strike action and the registration.

Expression

Following a public outcry, on 12th November 2019 the Greek government abandoned its plan to (re)criminalise blasphemy. The proposed changes in the penal code would have made blasphemy punishable by up to two years in prison. According to media reports, the Greek Orthodox Church had backed the amendment, arguing that it would help in “preserving the religious sentiment of the faithful.” Anti-blasphemy laws were scrapped by the left-wing government in 2016.