Greek court acquits police officer in killing case
11 July 2000
On February 23, 2000, the Council of Judges of the Magistrates Court of Thessaloniki ruled that charges against officers involved in the 1998 killing of a Romani man named Angelos Celal be dropped. Mr Celal, a Romani inhabitant of Halkidona, was killed on April 1, 1998, when a number of shots were fired in the rural area of Partheni, Thessaloniki, as officers ambushed a group of Roma suspected of involvement in a car theft. Mr Celal was shot in the back as he drove away from the scene of the ambush. According to police investigation, seventeen spent cartridges originating from firearms used by the police were found at the scene of the shooting, while an additional one spent cartridge possibly originating from a non-police weapon was recovered. In connection with the killing, on May 22, 1998, investigators brought charges against Officer Seraphim Papadopoulos, police lieutenant and inhabitant of Thessaloniki, for intentional murder, intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group, and deliberate damage to private property. Lesser charges were also brought against two other police officers: Mr Eleftherios Giakoumakis, inhabitant of Thessaloniki, for intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group, and deliberate damage to private property; and Mr Stavros Hadzidimitriou, inhabitant of Thessaloniki, for intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group, and deliberate damage to private property. Criminal charges were also brought by the Prosecutor of the Magistrate's Court of Thessaloniki against two Romani men: Mr Theocharis Frangoulis, an inhabitant of Halkidona, for conspiracy to commit larceny, resisting arrest, intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group, illegal weapons possession, use of weapons, and intentionally and repeatedly attempting to cause grievous bodily harm in a group; and Mr Vasileios Rasimoglou, inhabitant of Halkidona, for conspiracy to commit larceny.
On February 23, 2000, the Council of Judges of the Magistrates Court of Thessaloniki ruled that charges against Officers Papadopoulos, Giakoumakis and Hadzidimitriou be dropped on the grounds that they had acted in legitimate self-defence. The court evidently disregarded forensic evidence indicating that Mr Celal had been killed by a gunshot wound in the back. The court recommended that the Romani men, Mssrs Frangoulis and Rasimoglou, be prosecuted as charged. The court additionally ordered that the two men be remanded into custody. A request to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Appeals Court of Thessaloniki to challenge the court's ruling, lodged on April 24, 2000, by the Athens-based non-governmental organisations Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group/Greece, has been disregarded and the deadline for the Appeals Court to act has now lapsed. ERRC field research conducted in May 1998 revealed that police officers in Greece are rarely if ever disciplined for abusing the human rights of Roma, even in extreme instances.
On May 19, 2000, the ERRC sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis to express concern over the court decision to drop charges against the officers. The ERRC letter urges Prime Minister Simitis to undertake all measures available within the limits of law to see that officers who have abused their powers in the case of Angelos Celal are brought to justice. As of August 1, the ERRC had received no response to its letter.