TPSG | 21.11.2003 16:12 | Thessaloniki EU
Solidarity Actions at London Embassy, supporters ask "Who are the real terrorists?"
The Greek Justice Minister has ordered a decision be made by today, Friday 21st November, on what to do about the five hungerstrikers arrested while protesting outside an EU Summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, exactly five months ago. They are all in a critical condition of deteriorating health. The five are part of what has come to be known as the 'Thessaloniki Seven', consisting of a Londonder, two men from Spain, a Greek national and a Syrian refugee living in Crete, plus two Greek minors. The Seven have been charged with identical crimes, including throwing petrol bombs, rioting and even insurrection. They face up to 25 years in prison.
In London today, a delegation of two members of the Thessaloniki Prisoner Support Group was recieved at the Greek embassy in Holland Park, where they handed an urgent letter of appeal to the Ambassador. They wanted assurances that he had watched video evidence, recorded by Greek news television, which casts serious doubt over the integrity of the arrests made on the day (letter and video available on www.freesimonchapman.org).
In particular, the video shows one of the Seven, UK activist Simon Chapman, beaten by riot cops and presented with black bags containing molotov petrol bombs and other weapons. The Greek government are trying to portray these peaceful protesters as dangerous terrorists, but other, new video evidence presented to Greek court last week shows the police filling identical black bags with molotovs, which the protesters were then forced to carry. We ask: "who are the real terrorists?"
Although the video evidence has been shown on Greek television, as well as the BBC and widely circulated on the internet, all seven have been consistently denied bail. They are likely to be held without trial for 18 months. Because of this, and the fact the the judge in charge of their case refuses to even look at the video evience, five of the seven have gone on hungerstrike. Their demands are very simple; to all be given bail until trial and for Suleiman "Kastro" Dakduk not to be deported back to Syria, where he faces certain repression due to past trade union activity. Today is day 61 of the hungerstrike for Kastro - as far as we know, no-one has ever survived longer than 70 days.
Simon Chapman and the two Spanish prisoners, Carlos Martinez and Fernando Perrez, have been on hungerstrike since 5th October (47 days). Spiros Tsitsas started refusing food on 8th October (44 days). Three of the five have been transferred to civilian hospital, while Simon and Kastro are in maximum-security Koridallos prison in Athens. All have stated that they will continue the hungerstrike until their bail demands are met.
Recent gas-bomb attacks in Athens have been linked by Greek authorities to the hungerstrike, but according to supporters in Greece the perpetrators have nothing to do with the cause of the Seven and these attacks were in reality associated with the arrival of an FBI delegation to Athens to oversee security at next year's Olympic games. We urge all supporters to understand that the hungerstrikers have no control over what is done 'in their name', and are all personally committed to non-violent methods of protest.
The authorites are constantly moving the prisoners around and have made it impossible to for them to communicate as a group. Two of them are close to slipping into a coma and as such no kind of group statement on these attacks can be made yet, except that they all believe that the only way the Greek government will give them even basic justice is if they are pressured into doing so, and they have chosen hungerstriking as the only option available to them. Their beliefs have been bourne out: mainstream media coverage and Greek government manouvering has only materialised since the hungerstrike began.
The Greek authorities must now make the decision whether to release the hungerstrikers on bail or let them die. That decision is expected today. The Greek justice minister is quoted as saying "Greek justice will be done." With Greece responsable for the security and policing of the Olympic games next year, the world is watching just what form this "Greek justice" will take. If the hungerstrikers are refused bail, and start falling into comas or dying, Greece will have these deaths on its hands, and their image as a civilised country capable of holding a major event such as the Olympics will be shattered. We hope it does not come to this, and that these brave men's human rights will at last be respected.