Police Abuse of Roma in Greece
07 November 2002
According to testimony provided to the ERRC, and the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) by Mr Thomas Michalopoulos, a 21-year-old Romani man, on July 16, 2002, he and his cousin, 20-year-old Mr Yiorgos Michalopoulos, were pulled over in their car and subsequently beaten by Greek police in Zephyri, outside of Athens. According to Mr Michalopoulos, at around 9:00 PM on July 16, 2002, he and his cousin were driving on the main street in Zephyri when they noticed approximately fifteen police officers in both plainclothes and blue army fatigues near three police jeeps, one police van, one motorcycle and two cars with civilian license plates. One of the officers reportedly beckoned at Mr Thomas Michalopoulos, the driver, to stop, but Mr Michalopoulos apparently thought that the officer was beckoning at another vehicle. As Mr Michalopoulos made a right turn past the officers, he reportedly decided to go back, at which point, he noticed the motorcycle following him. Mr Michalopoulos reported that, when he turned back, he heard an officer telling him to stop through the speaker of the police car. According to Mr Michalopoulos, when they stopped, the two police jeeps and the two cars with civilian license plates had arrived carrying seven officers. The driver of one of the jeeps reportedly had his gun drawn and aimed at them, yelling for the two to put their hands in the air. Mr Michalopoulos reported that he and his cousin got out of the car at the request of the police, who proceeded to search them bodily and search the car as well. During this time, Mr Michalopoulos realised that the police were searching for drugs, and stated that two of the police officers repeatedly punched his cousin Yiorgos in the face during the span of 2 to 3 minutes.
According to Mr Michalopoulos, the officers reportedly then handcuffed the two men and placed them in a police van a short distance away. In the van, Mr Michalopoulos found two officers in blue army fatigues and two of his other cousins, 28-year-old Mr Panayote Bazakas and 22-year-old Mr Fotis Bazakas. Mr Michalopoulos reportedly got out of the van to help the officers lock his car and he heard Mr Yiorgos Michalopoulos screaming. Mr Michalopoulos told the ERRC/GHM that he could hear the officers hitting his cousin. He also reported that his other cousins, Panayote and Fotis, later told him that the police officer sitting on the driver's seat asked his colleague whether he had ever beaten a Gypsy. The other officer responded that this would be his first time and reportedly began beating Yiorgos Michalopoulos.
According to Mr Michalopoulos, when he was put back into the van, the officer who had been beating Yiorgos Michalopoulos, began beating him as well, punching them both in the face repeatedly, most of the blows directed at Yiorgos Michalopoulos. They arrived at the Zephyri Police Station at approximately 9:30 PM. All four Romani men were handcuffed and taken into the station. Mr Michalopoulos reported that, when entering the station, the officer who had beaten him and Yiorgos Michalopoulos kicked him in the hand and placed his boot on his back and pushed him. While the four Romani men were waiting in front of a detention cell, a plainclothes officer hit Yiorgos Michalopoulos on the forehead with his elbow, causing his head to jerk backwards. He also reportedly hit Fotis Bazakas on the nose, causing him to hit his head on the wall, according to Mr Michalopoulos. After the four Romani men were placed in a detention cell, the officer who had beaten the two Roma in the van and the plainclothes officer who had elbowed Yiorgos Michalopoulos in the forehead, came and reportedly started repeatedly punching Yiorgos Michalopouloson his face and body, for around 5 minutes. Mr Michalopoulos stated that he was also punched in the face repeatedly. Mr Michalopoulos informed the ERRC/GHM that, after a while, the uniformed officer took the Romani men, one-by-one, to be fingerprinted. The plainclothes officer reportedly stayed in the cell, stood Yiorgos Michalopoulos against the wall and karate kicked him once on the left leg and once on his ribs, elbowed him in the chest, and then left.
Mr Michalopoulos informed the ERRC/GHM that Mr Yiorgos Michalopoulos, Mr Panayote Bazakas and Mr Fotis Bazakas were released from police custody on July 17, 2002, at approximately 1:00 AM, but, as Mr Michalopoulos was found to have evaded the draft, that same night he was taken to the Aigaleo Police Station. After reportedly being taken to the Army Draft Board and released the next morning, Mr Michalopoulos explained to the ERRC/GHM that he visited the KAT General Hospital, where he received a medical certificate which stated that he suffered a twisted finger. According to Mr Michalopoulos, on July 20, 2002, he reported the incident to the Zephyri Police Commander, who denied that the officers who ill-treated the Romani men were his subordinates and presumed that they were from the Aigaleo Police Station. The Police Commander reportedly suggested that Mr Michalopoulos file a complaint against the officers, which he did not do because he feared police reprisal. On August 6, 2002, the GHM sent a letter to the Greek Chief of Police, requesting an immediate Sworn Administrative Inquiry. As of October 24, 2002, the ERRC/GHM had been informed that a Sworn Administrative Inquiry had been launched into the case.
In other news, according to testimony given to the ERRC/GHM on July 7, 2002, approximately sixty police officers, in three vans, on motorcycles and in police cars with mostly civilian plates, raided the Nea Zoe settlement in Aspropyrgos, in the wider Athens region on July 1, 2002. Argiro Panayotopoulou, a 13-year-old Romani girl, stated to the ERRC/GHM that, "It was around 11:00 AM and I was in the shed that me and my mother use as a mini market when a Greek man who looked like a drug addict came in and asked for some water. Before I had time to answer him, six police officers burst in with guns pointed at us and started asking whether I had sold him any drugs. I said no and they told me to go outside to a place where they were gathering all the women. There were many police officers around, most of them in plainclothes. I recognised the commander of the local police station among them." Argiro's mother, 36-year-old Ms Dionysia Panayotopoulou further told the ERRC/GHM that she found her shed devastated following the raid; "They had broken a sewing machine, smashed plates and glasses and emptied on the ground three large containers of instant coffee. They had opened Coke cans and emptied their contents on our clothes and blankets." A 17-year-old Romani boy, Christos Markopoulos, told the ERRC/GHM that, during the raid, the police forced all twenty-four Romani men in the settlement at the time, in scant clothing, to lie on the tarmac ground in the heat and proceeded to search them, finding nothing. The police reportedly forced them to remain on the ground for about an hour, despite their complaints about the heat. Christos Markopoulos stated that he was then placed in a police van. He told the ERRC/GHM, "I was sitting next to a cousin of mine. He asked me to move so he could sit better and then a police officer told him to stop it or else he would blow his brains to the sky." Panayote Karagounis, a 14-year-old Romani boy, testified to the ERRC/GHM that he was walking home in the settlement the day of the raid when two police officers in plainclothes stopped him and asked where he was going. He reportedly told the officers that he was going home when, according to Panayote Karagounis, the officers "knocked the can of orange juice that I was drinking out of my hand and pulled my hand behind my back. They started hitting me with their knees on my thighs. They then took me to another police officer in plainclothes who slapped me on my ears and punched me in the cheek. As a result, one of my teeth fell out." Panayote Karagounis also told the ERRC/GHM that the officer put all the men into a van and took them to the Aspropyrgos Police Station at approximately 12:30 PM. At the police station, the men were reportedly placed in two cells and the women in another. Everyone was reportedly released at around 4:00 PM. Ms Tasia Marinakou, a 62-year-old Romani woman, told the ERRC/GHM that she and two other women had been subjected to full body searches by female officers in a police van. According to Ms Marinakou, following the body searches, she overheard one of the officers state that the operation was in vain and they would not get a promotion.
On July 3, 2002, the ERRC/GHM submitted a list of questions about the police raid on the Nea Zoe settlement to the Western Attica Police Directorate, to which a response was received on July 5, 2002. The ERRC/GHM noted that the letter from the Western Attica Police Directorate was inconsistent with the victim testimony collected. While the Romani victims maintained that all of the approximately fifteen to twenty sheds in the settlement were raided, the police stated that only seven houses were searched. There was also no reference in the letter to the damage caused to the Romani sheds by the officers. The ERRC/GHM also noted that Roma from the settlement were not asked to be present during the search of their homes, as required under Greek Penal Code Article 256, that states "whoever [official] conducts a house search, he must invite the inhabitant to be present during the house search." On July 28, 2002, the GHM sent a letter to the Greek Chief of Police calling for a Sworn Administrative Inquiry into the abusive raid. The police have, however, not acted to investigate the case adequately, so the ERRC/GHM has informed the Ombudsman's Office of the case. Additional information on the current situation of Roma in Greece is available on the ERRC's Internet website at: http://lists.errc.org/publications/indices/greece.shtml