tim wilson | 21.10.2004 00:02
Five guilty of migrant abuse
A military court in the Cretan town of Hania has found five coast guard officers guilty of beating up a group of Kurdish illegal immigrants in their custody three years ago.
But in a decision made public on Saturday, the court proceeded to give suspended sentences of 12 to 30 months’ imprisonment to the five officers. A sixth defendant was cleared.
The 24 immigrants who suffered abuse were part of a group of 164 people held in coast guard installations in Souda, near Hania, after arriving in Greek waters on a battered vessel from Turkey in June 2001.
Among the witnesses was the former commander of the Souda coast guard station, Diamantis Vassilagoudis, who said several of the detainees had complained to him of being beaten up by the men under his command. He also confirmed that two of the officers had tried to sexually assault one of the migrants.
In mid-September, the Defense Ministry admitted that army commandos on the remote eastern Aegean islet of Farmakonissi had violently abused a group of illegal immigrants who landed there. An investigation was ordered, but its results have still to be made public.
Large numbers of illegal immigrants reach Greek shores every year, mostly in rickety vessels that leave from Turkey.
Yesterday, coast guard officers rescued 34 illegal migrants from a sinking boat off the island of Leros in the Dodecanese, and were searching the seas off Lesvos for another migrant ship that was reported to be trouble in the area. The 34 migrants — 25 men, three women and six children — were located some 8 kilometers off Leros after a migrant couple told police in Athens that their daughter, who was on the boat, had contacted them by cellphone to seek help.
The second search operation was under way until late yesterday off Lesvos for traces of a vessel thought to be carrying illegal migrants. The search was hampered by high winds of up to 8 on the Beaufort scale.
The coast guard has arrested over 20 more illegal migrants on Lesvos and in the southern Peloponnese over the past three days.
GCR lawyer Kostas Mavroidis called and informed that on Friday, after a marathon court trial, five of the six coast guard staff who had been implicated in inhuman treatment (including sexual abuse) of a number of detained irregular migrants (some of whom later applied for asylum), were sentenced to imprisonment. Mavroidis represented the asylum seekers (for the Greek speakers: synigoros politikis agogis).
Mavroidis believes this is one of the few cases where a court is willing to charge Greek security staff on allegations by foreign irregular migrants (Greek colleagues may have seen in the press a related instance of a police officer in Amaliada escaping justice despite having harassed a woman who was residing illegally there).
You will be pleased to learn, I am sure, that when the case against the men who tortured me in Hania in 2001 took place last week, 5 of the men accused were given custodial sentences. Despite bribes and threats to us, the witnesses and victims, one man was present to testify and I salute his bravery! At the moment, the convicted Coastguard are appealing: we never had that option.
I hope Greece will now reassure us that what was done on Crete was an exception and not the rule. However, while the Greek President remains silent and fails to publicly denounce the behaviour of the Coastguard, and of those who tried to cover up their crime, or intimidate witnesses, and while the Greek Prime Minister fails to respond to demands repeatedly made that he confirms publicly that torture, whether by the Coastguard or by members of the Policeforce, will not be a part of law enforcement in Greece, it is impossible to be genuinely pleased by news of the outcome of this trial.
My partner wrote repeatedly to the Pasok Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and visited the offices of the President. They remained silent then, maybe awaiting the outcome of the trial. In the meantime, however, the men who are now convicted had the security of their comrades, and the confidence of wearing the State Uniform. Neither did Archbishop Christodoulos offer help on the day he was approached by my partner. That very evening, indeed, he announced that "all turks are barbarians". I am a Turk and took that as another personal assault. It is time for him to apologise as it is time for these former Statesmen to apologise. They shamed Greece - for three years, they effectively condoned our torture by their silence. It is time for the shame to stop!
I should also like to point out that every effort I made to contact the Hania Court and the Navy for information was blocked. In addition, my partner's repeated requests of the Greek Embassy in the UK for information, which claimed to be advised by the "competent" authorities in Greece, failed to provide information about the case on 15th October. It is regrettable the Embassy was so poorly informed, and It is only by virtue of your reports in the Athens News that we were alerted to this trial at all, and only then, when it was regrettably too late to attend. I am grateful to the Athens News, therefore.
I hope, in future, any cases of this nature will be tried more speedily and with complete openness in a proper Criminal court. In addition, I hope the Judge Michaelis Apostolides will now explain his actions in 2002 when he attempted to coerce me into pressing lesser charges against my assailants, and I hope the former Pasok Minister of Mechant Marine will be immediately forthcoming with an apology for his efforts to cover-up the incident. It now remains for the present government in Greece to make good for the 164 lives it permitted rogues wearing the State Uniform to utterly change. We are waiting. In the pursuit of right, we will not permit "the law's delay" again.
Necati Zontul & Tim Wilson