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Application of Legislation, Criminal Cases, Court Rulings

Application of Legislation, Criminal Cases, Court Rulings Arrest by Greek police of the leader of the neo-Nazi party "Golden Dawn" Nikos Michaloliakos.

Greece is one of several countries that does not reveal hate crime statistics. Nevertheless, we noticed a significant reduction of such crime since 2014. This is largely due to tightening of anti-racism and anti-extremism legislation and recognition of racism as an aggravating circumstance. No less important were actions against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, despite it being the third-largest faction in parliament.

Police is becoming more active in investigating hate crime. Although, there is still a large degree of reluctance and guilty verdicts in such cases are extremely rare. It is still easier to convict a criminal for a regular crime, than introduce hate motive to the case. On February 24, a bus driver was sentenced to 10 months in prison (suspended sentence) and a fine of 1000 euros for refusing to transport two Africans in Thessaloniki.

On March 8, Thessaloniki City Court sentenced a 57-year-old doctor to 16 months imprisonment and a 2.5 thousand euro fine for the anti-Semitic sign at the entrance to his office. However, further execution of the sentence was suspended and the doctor was released on appeal.

On April 15, Court of Athens sentenced two young Greeks to life in prison for the murder of a 27-year-old Pakistani citizen Luqman Shehzan last year. On November 4, Mesolongi court sentenced three of nationalists who attacked Roma in 2012. They were sentenced to eight months in prison. Golden Dawn party was extensively investigated and by August 2014, 78 of its members have been brought up on various charges.

On the other hand, Patras Court decision on July 30 to acquit owners of a strawberry plantation in Manolada, who opened fire at migrant workers who were demanding payment of wages, is odd, to say the least. Supreme Court rejected victim’s appeal. Police has been more active in the investigation of hate crimes, and the courts started to issue more convictions in these cases. At the same time, there have been numerous cases of institutional racism in the system. For the authorities, it is still easier to convict a criminal for domestic crime than to identify the offense as hate crime.

From September 2014 until July 2016, the prosecutor for racist violence Helen Touloupakis handled 80 case files concerning racist behaviours such as threats or beatings against migrants. The case files were prepared after gathering related information mainly through complaints and publications. Among the 80 cases, relevant are those relating to physical violence against migrants both by police and by civilians, the attack of overlapping far right groups Combat 18 and Not Aligned Nationalists (AEE) on Jewish cemetery, the detention conditions in Amygdaleza , an attack on a bus stop... of a Sudanese citizen in Kifissias Avenue , passport theft and mobile phones of Syrian refugees, attacks with stones and oranges, against Pakistanis and other nationalities.

More than half of these cases, 34, are in the stage of preliminary investigation, 17 have entered in the file of the unidentified perpetrators, and 10 transmitted to foreign authorities’ prosecutors that jurisdiction. The law of 1979 on the racist violence changed in 2013, but the government attempted to make some other modifications in September 2014 attempting at strengthening the country’s criminal anti-racism legislation and adjusting the relevant legislative framework with EU Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA, on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. As NGO and international organizations say, the legislation established in 2014 signals progress. However, on a practical level, there are problems. The law has not found wide application, while judicial authorities are not familiar with. The situation gets more complicated with the major delays and strikes of the judicial authorities. Lawyers have been outlining the risk of even being written off the misdemeanours committed during the racist pogrom that took place in Athens on 10-14 / 5/2011 after the killing of a Greek citizen from an African immigrant at the centre of Athens. At the same time, in April 2015, the judicial authorities proceeded to the investigation of criminal acts allegedly committed by members of “Golden Dawn”, a political party described as a “neo-Nazi and fascist organization”, while state funding of the said party has been suspended.

The result was an explosive growth of non-violent hate crime registered by law enforcement agencies (more than 276%) and a 19% decrease in the number of violent crimes. This suggests that the quality of police work has improved - criminal cases began to be instituted where previously they would have not, for example – hate speech online. This had an obvious preventive effect - there were fewer people wishing to commit violent hate crimes in 2015. At the same time, it should be remembered that as early as 2013, Greece was topping the list of countries with worst levels of hate crime. This is a country where until recently, politically motivated murders and even terrorist acts were not a sensation, and neo-Nazis actively combined parliamentary activity with street activity.

A number of important initiatives were implemented in 2015-2016 in relation to refugees. Mass arrivals of refugees reached a huge number in the second half of 2015 (911'471 arrests of illegal immigrants in the ports of Greece were recorded in 2015 in comparison with 77'163 in 2014, according to statistics from the Greek police). It was a huge burden on the country's administrative system.

A deal has been struck between Turkey and Europe, bringing the following positive changes: 1) The Government of SYRIZA adopted the Regulation on free movement in temporary accommodation centres for asylum seekers. 2) Issues concerning unaccompanied minors were settled. (3) A normal procedure was established for examining asylum applications and granting refugee status for humanitarian reasons.

In 2015, the government and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, conducted a survey among the refugees themselves. It allowed to compile a sociological portrait of an average immigrant from Syria. As it turned out, 86% of refugees have higher or secondary education, with the students being the largest group among the respondents. Many were separated from their families and lost contact with them, 6% were unaccompanied or separated from their families. 5% were victims of torture, 65% said they did not have specific needs. The majority of the refugees surveyed intended to apply for asylum in other EU countries, primarily in Germany. This information was immediately replicated by local newspapers, which not only reduced the level of tension, but also led to an increase in monetary donations from the Greeks to the needs of refugees.

In September 2019, the Greek cabinet decided to continue several ambitious programs aimed at easing the burden on the eastern Aegean islands due to the increased influx of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece via Turkey. The main program, which is fully funded by the European Commission, involves the transfer of 40,000 refugees and immigrants either to the Greek mainland or to other countries.

A total of 16,000 additional refugees and migrants are expected to be transported across the country under another Greek program, Helios, to specially equipped camps or hotels and motels. The Greek government has also decided to start building closed centers for those who entered the country illegally and are not entitled to asylum, or whose applications have been rejected. Greece also intends to increase the number of returnees of those who have not been granted refugee status by 10,000 by December 2020.

Also, the Greek government will very soon introduce a bill aimed at speeding up procedures in order to determine more quickly whether migrants should be granted refugee status or deported. The legislation will also aim to create a "safe country" scheme, based on an international agreement, whereby those subject to deportation can leave safely for another country. Greece will make a joint presentation to the EU, along with Cyprus and Bulgaria, other EU member states close to Turkey, on a proposal to reduce the number of migrants arriving on EU shores from Turkey. Parallel to this meeting, Eleftherios Economou, deputy minister for Greek citizen protection, publicly acknowledged Monday that Greece is experiencing a national crisis regarding the number of migrants arriving on its shores.

Seven years after the murder of anti-fascist singer Pavlos Fissas in Keratsini and five and a half years after the Golden Dawn party trial began, a three-member court in Athens issued a landmark verdict on Oct. 7, 2020. The court ruled that seven members of the Golden Dawn political council, including its leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were found guilty of running a criminal organization. The court also found 11 former deputies of Golden Dawn guilty of participating in the criminal organization.

The court also found Golden Dawn party member Giorgos Rupakias guilty of murdering anti-fascist singer Pavlos Fissas and nine other defendants who were accomplices in the murder. The court also found three defendants guilty of the attempted murder of Egyptian fisherman Abouzid Embarak and four defendants guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to three PAME union members. The long trial culminated in what some participants called the most landmark trial since the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazis. The party is associated with a series of serious attacks dating back to the 1990s, but for years Greece's political class seemed reluctant to apply the law: As Kostis Papaioannou, a human rights activist who observed the trial, said, "a long tradition of impunity for racist attacks" allowed Golden Dawn to "coexist" with Greece. There are allegations that some police officers are sympathetic to Golden Dawn: Tapping phone records in court revealed direct contacts between Golden Dawn members and several police officials.

There are also broader political issues. The Greek community must surely get an answer as to why the murder of the Greek Pavlos Fissas triggered a decisive backlash against Golden Dawn, when a well-documented string of attacks on immigrants did not have the same effect. Perhaps the most important story to tell about the trial is not what it revealed about the defendants, but what became known as a result about the people who resisted. Without the human rights activists and investigative journalists who painstakingly documented racist violence, the anti-fascist activists who organized mass protests, the volunteer legal groups who brought private cases, and the victims and witnesses who testified in court, this verdict would not have been reached. Racism, discrimination, and far-right nationalism have not disappeared from Greece--and they have not disappeared in other countries--but the movement that tried to bring the worst violence there has been shattered.

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