Sunday, July 01, 2007

Greek justice -- trying to catch up with Mexico?

Greek police are battling accusations of brutality after their own films taken on mobile phones became public. Public outrage has even prompted the leader of the opposition party PASOK, former foreign minister George Papandreou, to call them "videos of shame" that have created "a legacy of ... Greek Guantanamo camps."

The controversy was sparked on June 16 when a video of two immigrant youths in police custody, beaten and forced to slap each other in punishment after an alleged bag-snatching, was posted on the Internet by a blogger. Five days later, footage showing an Asian migrant allegedly beaten by police was aired by the private TV channel Alpha, while the To Vima daily published details of another video which it said showed two prostitutes forced to strip to escape arrest. Two of the videos were apparently shot at a central Athens police station specialising in narcotics and prostitution cases, and all were reportedly shot and shared by police themselves.

"Nobody has the right to abuse the law," railed Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. "We will not permit our country's culture and image to be sullied by anybody." Summoned by opposition MPs, Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras vowed that "the officers responsible will be punished in an exemplary manner." But he also insisted the footage presents an unfair picture of Greek police. "Our police are among the best in the world," he told MPs. "It is a force of 55,000 people. Which force of this size does not include delinquents?"

After the beating of the two youths last year, five officers including the station chief were suspended and seven officers were charged.

Greece's police have spent years trying to shake off a reputation for abuse gained during the 1967-74 military dictatorship -- when the junta suspended many civil liberties and arrested and tortured political opponents, notably communists. This new, unwelcome attention comes a few months after police officers in the northern city of Salonika were caught on news footage beating a Cypriot university student they mistook for an anarchist agitator.

And last week the European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for poorly investigating the case of a young Roma man crippled in 1998 when an officer shot him point-blank in the head after he refused to help with a drug bust.

"Laws exist but are not enforced," says Anna Botsoglou, spokeswoman for Amnesty International's Greek branch. "This impunity creates a certain mentality...whereby (officers) not only feel it is OK to beat, but to even film the beating, and they don't feel under any threat," she told AFP. In a 2005 report, Amnesty said Greece was guilty of a "consistent pattern" of rights violations against would-be migrants, asylum seekers and Roma. The report recorded violations arising from the conditions under which migrants are detained and drew attention to alleged ill-treatment by police officers.

Already in 2004, the Greek ombudsman's office issued a report on 176 cases involving complaints which police investigated internally. Not only were cases of confirmed guilt "negligible" but the sanctions themselves were "disproportionately light," the ombudsman said. A police source, who asked not be named, said the department was updating its disciplinary code in line with requests from the ombudsman but "as the procedure is in process, no information on the changes can be given."

Report here


A shopkeeper has been fined 250 pounds and given a criminal record because he fought back when he was attacked by shoplifters. Jacob Smyth chased three youths out of his hardware shop in Penzance, Cornwall, when he was set upon. When he was kicked in the groin by one of the hooded youths who had stolen cans of spray paint Mr Smyth hit back.

Police issued fixed penalty tickets to the shoplifters but charged Mr Smyth and a colleague with assault. Yesterday he pleaded guilty to assault at Truro Magistrates’ Court. He claimed after the hearing that he had been advised to plead guilty because otherwise he could have faced a six month prison sentence.

The court was told that Mr Smyth, a father of three, caught the youths stealing the spray cans in October last year. Two of them turned on him and he was kicked in his groin just weeks after a vasectomy operation. He retaliated and punched 18-year-old Craig Spiller to the ground.

Paul Gallagher, defending, said: “The court can only imagine what they intended to do with that spray paint. He could see the cans poking out of their pockets. He leant forward to get them and at that stage he was set upon. “He did punch one of them to get him off. In the heat of the moment he kicked him once or twice. Initially he was acting in self defence. Frustration at the situation took over. The lads were interviewed and given fixed penalty notices by police but unfortunately for Mr Smyth ended up in court today. “He was the one who was trying to do the right thing and get his stolen property back.”

Julian Herbert, prosecuting, said the “aggravating factor” of the case was shop staff “taking the law into their own hands”. Fining Mr Smyth 250 pounds and ordering him to pay 43 pounds costs, Angy Haslam, chairman of the magistrates, said: “The act was aggravated by the fact you kicked the victim on the ground. We feel it has been mitigated because you acted in self defence.”

Speaking outside court, Mr Smyth said: “I did nothing wrong. I was getting a good beating from this lad. I had no choice but to defend myself. “We get shoplifters all the time -- one after the other. We call the police but nothing is ever done. We called them on this occasion and ran after the lads to try and get my property back but then they turned on us. “Am I not allowed to protect my stock and premises from thieves?” Mr Smyth’s colleague Jason Pascoe, 34, has also been charged with two counts of common assault and will appear in court at a later date.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

No comments: