ERRC Letter to Greek Prime Minister

19 May 2000

On May 19, 2000, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis to express concern at the recent decision by the Council of Magistrates Court of Thessaloniki to drop charges against officers involved in the 1998 killing of a Romani man named Angelos Celal. Mr Celal was shot in the back as he drove away from the scene of a police ambush. 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, such as instances in which officers kill Roma in the course of duty. The ERRC letter urges Prime Minister Simitis to undertake all measures available within the limits of law to see to it that officers who have abused their powers in the case of Angelos Celal are brought to justice. The text of the ERRC letter follows:

Honourable Prime Minister Simitis,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is concerned at the recent decision by the Council of Magistrates' Court of Thessaloniki to drop charges against officers involved in the 1998 killing of a Romani man named Angelos Celal.

After officers ambushed a group of Roma suspected of involvement in a car theft on April 1, 1998, a number of shots were fired in the rural area of Partheni, Thessaloniki, as a result of which a Romani man named Angelos Celal, an inhabitant of Halkidona, was killed. 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, inhabitant of Thessaloniki, for a) intentional murder, b) intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group and c) deliberate damage to private property. Lesser charges were also brought against two other police officers:

  • Mr Eleftherios Giakoumakis, inhabitant of Thessaloniki, for a) intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group and b) deliberate damage to private property;
  • Mr Stavros Hadzidimitriou, inhabitant of Thessaloniki, for a) intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group and b) 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 a) conspiracy to commit larceny b) resisting arrest c) intentionally and repeatedly committing attempted murder in a group d) illegal weapons possession e) use of weapons f) intentionally and repeatedly attempting to cause grievous bodily harm in a group;
  • 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 be dropped against Officers Papadopoulos, Giakoumakis and Hadzidimitriou on 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.

Honourable Prime Minister Simitis, numerous instances of police abuse of Roma, including killings of Roma by police officers, have been reported in Greece in recent years. ERRC field research conducted in May 1998 revealed that police officers are rarely if ever disciplined for abusing the human rights of Roma, even in extreme instances, such as instances in which officers kill Roma in the course of duty. We urge you to undertake all measures available within the limits of law to see to it that officers who have abused their powers in the case of Angelos Celal are brought to justice.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Prime Minister of Greece Mr Costas Simitis
Megaro Maximou
Herodou Attikou
Athens
Greece
Fax: (30-1) 671 57 99, (30 1) 724 1776

Minister of Justice of Greece Professor Mihalis Stathopoulos
Minister of Justice
Mesogeion 96
Athens
Greece
Fax : (30 1) 77 55 835

Foreign Minister of Greece Mr George Papandreou
Vasilisis Sofias 5
Athens
Greece
Fax: (30 1) 36 81 433

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