Greek police accused over racism and asylum rights

Greek police detain a demonstrator in Athens during the 24hr strike on 18 October 2012 Further allegations of mistreatement of protesters by the police have surfaced

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Newsnight's report on the Greek far-right party Golden Dawn made headlines across Europe last week.

In it, MP Ilias Panagiotaros claimed Greece was "in civil war" and indeed advocated a new kind of civil war, pitting the far-right against migrants, anarchists, etc.

Within 24 hours Mr Panagiotaros had retracted his claim that Greece was "in civil war", saying instead "there is no civil war" and accusing Newsnight of "paraphrasing" his words. We had simply broadcast them, un-edited and in English.

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Fifteen protesters have told us they intend to bring a case against the Athens police”

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Now three new reports cast light on the substance of our story - which was: alleged police torture of anti-fascist detainees, Golden Dawn's influence inside the Greek police force, and its potential influence on the operational behaviour and priorities of the police in the Attica region around Athens.

Today, lawyers for 15 protesters who claim they were mistreated and abused in police detention, have shown Newsnight coroners' reports on eight of the detainees.

The most serious of the coroners' documents confirms "grievous bodily harm caused by a sharp and blunt object," requiring the victim to be off work for a month.

Another describes a kind of injury that is consistent with being caused by a taser, as claimed in the original Guardian report.

Fifteen protesters have told us they intend to bring a case against the Athens police.

A second report issued yesterday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees contains figures for racial attacks in Greece, which are not routinely collected by the Greek government.

It records 87 racist attacks, 48 of which were by members of an identifiable right-wing political group. In other words, more than half the recorded racist attacks are attributable to people dressed in militaria:

"In some cases, the victims or witnesses to the attacks reported that they recognised persons associated to Golden Dawn party among the perpetrators, either because they wore the insignia of the party or because they were seen participating in public events organized by the party in the area," says the UNHCR.

The report highlights specifically a worrying overlap with alleged Greek police racism:

"There is a distinct category of 15 incidents where police and racist violence are interlinked.

"These incidents concern duty officers who resort to illegal acts and violent practices while carrying out routine checks.

"There are also instances where people were brought to police stations, were detained and maltreated for a few hours, as well as cases where legal documents were destroyed during these operations."

Asylum seekers 'tormented'

Finally, in a report issued on Friday, a coalition of NGOs and lawyers representing the legal rights of asylum seekers in Greece slammed the asylum system there.

Despite Greece being a signatory to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which allows people to claim asylum and guarantees them humane treatment, it is physically almost impossible to do so.

Unlike in Britian there is no specific immigration service and the asylum claims system is handled by the police.

Those trying to claim asylum must queue at a remote station overnight each Friday, after which just 20 are "selected" to make a claim.

The report details numerous instances of arbitrary violence, mistreatment, etc of people in the asylum queue and concludes: "Access to the asylum procedure is almost impossible in Attica."

The report by the Greek Council for Refugees says:

"The competent authorities take no measures to ease the physical and mental exhaustion of the asylum seekers, who are subjected to inhuman and degrading torment in order to apply.

"Instead they follow specific practices, such as dispersing the queue of asylum seekers, intimidating them and chasing them way, in order to discourage them from returning and trying to submit their asylum application."

"This irrational practice established by the authorities, i.e. restricting the access to the asylum procedure only to a small number of applicants and only once a week, in a process that takes place before dawn, leaves room for the appearance of arbitrariness, violence and exploitation, towards which the police remain indifferent contrary to their role and in breach of their obligations."

So in a period of a week, the Greek police force stands accused by NGOs, coroners and UNHCR of mistreating anti-fascist protesters in custody, of "indifference" towards mistreatment of asylum seekers and of actual participation in racist attacks on migrants.

When I interviewed a Greek police spokesperson last week he was at pains to deny all allegations of mistreatment and racism.

We have requested an interview with Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias but he has so far declined.

Paul Mason Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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