Killing of Romani man by police in Greece

07 November 2001

The Greek Helsinki Monitor, the ERRC local monitor partner in Greece, reported on October 25, 2001, that on October 24, 2001, at approximately 8 PM, Emergency Squad Police Officer G.T. shot and killed a 21-year-old Romani man named Marinos Christopoulos in Zefyri, near Athens. According to a press release issued on October 25, 2001, by the General Police Directorate of Attica, Mr Christopoulos was fatally wounded when he refused to pull over at a road block and, according to police, allegedly accelerated his car and tried to run over the three officers at the scene. According to the police press release, Officer G.T. fired a gunshot which struck the upper left side of the windshield once, on the driver's side of the vehicle driven by Mr Christopoulos. After the shot was fired Mr Christopoulos's vehicle crashed into a hydroelectric pole. Mr Christopoulos was then taken to hospital by other persons in the car.

The Greek Helsinki Monitor has reported to the ERRC that according to a forensic medical report on the victim, the fatal shot was to the back of the victim's head, and therefore could not have entered through the front windshield. This points to the possibility that Mr Christopoulos was shot after he had passed the police officers. According to the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, "law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury." There is reason to believe that the fatal gunshot was fired after Mr Christopoulos had already passed the police officers, and therefore, Officer G.T. may not have been acting in self-defence. Indeed, it appears that Greek police investigators may share this opinion, as Officer G.T. has been charged with homicide in connection with the incident. However, he has reportedly been released on bail and as of December 4, 2001, had not been suspended from his duties as a law enforcement official.

In another case of police brutality against Roma in Greece, the GHM reported that on the night of August 4, 2001, four Romani relatives - Nikos Theodoropoulos, aged 19, Nikos Theodoropoulos, 18, Nikos Tsitsikos, 23, and Vasileios Theodoropoulos, 17, were arbitrarily arrested, detained and subjected to serious physical abuse in Argostoli on the island of Cephalonia. According to reports, the Roma were walking by the kiosk of Mr Panagis Pefanis when he informed them of the theft of a large sum of money from his kiosk. One of the Romani men called the police and the four were subsequently arrested in connection with the theft when the police arrived.

Upon arrival at the police station at around 1 AM on August 5, two police officers reportedly placed the four young Roma in separate rooms to interrogate them about the theft. Nikos Theodoropoulos, 18, reported to the GHM that when he refused to confess to the theft, both officers began punching and slapping him in the face and stepping on his feet with their boots for approximately 20 minutes. Following the interrogation, the four young Roma were placed in detention cells. After being allowed to sleep for a few hours, the officers brought the young men back out one by one and asked them to sign a paper confessing to the theft, even though three of them could not read, and the fourth did not read the papers because he was in a state of shock. Eighteen-year-old Nikos Theodoropoulos reported that when he again refused to confess to the theft and stated that he would not make an official statement until his lawyer arrived, the officers beat him again. To avoid further abuse, Mr Theodoropoulos signed a statement in which he confessed to committing the theft. Mr Theodoropoulos subsequently told non-governmental organisations that the statement he signed was false. While in detention, the four young Roma reported being deprived of food and water until August 6, 2001. After taking into consideration statements by the Roma that the confessions were false and that they had been forced to sign them through the use of force, a judge ruling on August 6, 2001, acquitted all four Roma. On October 8, the four Romani youths filed complaints at the Greek Ombudsman's Office related to their physical abuse at the hands of police officers.

Also related to the same kiosk theft, on September 19, 2001, the GHM reported the ill treatment by police of 16-year-old Theodore Stefanou, a Romani boy from Patras by a Greek policeman at Argostoli, on the island of Cephalonia. Late in the evening on August 4, 2001, Theodore Stefanou was away from the truck in which he was sleeping during his stay in Argostoli when, he later learned from witnesses, police officers went to his truck in search of him. Theodore Stefanou returned to his truck in the early hours of August 5, 2001. to find that it had been searched. He then went directly to the police station to inquire as to why the police had been looking for him and was questioned about the theft from Mr Pefanis's kiosk. According to the victim's testimony, one officer repeatedly punched and slapped him hard in the face in the presence of the police commander and another officer for around fifteen minutes, while the police commander questioned the boy. Theodore Stefanou was then handcuffed and taken to his truck, then brought back to the police station and beaten for another 15 minutes by the first officer, who repeatedly asked him "where the money was." Theodore Stefanou subsequently provided the names of both officers to the GHM and the ERRC knows their identities.

The GHM reported that Mr Stefanou was then placed in a small corridor just outside the office with four other Romani men, also arrested in connection with the theft. When Mr Pefanis arrived around 30 minutes later, he told the police that Theodore Stefanou had not been at his kiosk and Theodore Stefanou was released at dawn into the care of his sister, who insisted that he visit a hospital. He remained in hospital for around four hours. The official medical report issued at the hospital states that Theodore Stefanou suffered from injuries including a head injury caused by a beating received approximately twelve hours earlier, swelling and sensitivity on the ridge of his nose, a slight difficulty in focusing his eyesight and small frontal left hematomae. On August 7, 2001, Theodore Stefanou reportedly went to the Prosecutor's Office to file a complaint against the police commander. He also reported to the GHM that he went to see the police commander, who was reportedly not concerned about the complaint and instead warned Mr Stefanou "not to hang out with the Theodoropoulos clan of Roma, if (he) did not want the same thing to happen to (him) again." On October 8, 2001, Theodore Stefanou officially pressed charges against the police commander. The ERRC notes that while all five Romani victims report being arrested at around 1:00AM, the statement of arrest filed by the police officers lists the time of arrest as 5:00AM, leaving a period of approximately four hours during which the men were allegedly detained, unaccounted for.

In yet another case of ill-treatment of Roma by the police, GHM reported that on June 15, 2001, at approximately 1:20 AM, 6 police patrol cars and police officers with guns surrounded the house of Mr Andreas Kalamiotis, a 21-year-old Romani man, in Pefkakia, Aghia Paraskevi, near Athens. Mr Kalamiotis reported that the officers then threatened to shoot him, insulted his ethnicity and his wife and beat him, according to information received from Amnesty International. In his statement to the Greek Ombudsman Office in Athens, Mr Kalamiotis alleged that he had been drinking and listening to music at home with friends until about 2 AM, when police officers came and told them to turn off the music because it was disturbing the neighbours. Five minutes later, Mr Kalamiotis turned the music off and his friends left. After he went inside the house, he heard noises outside and went to see what they were. It was at this point that he saw the police patrol cars and the officers with guns. One officer reportedly motioned to Mr Kalamiotis with his gun and said that he would shoot him as he stood barefoot on the doorstep. Officers then allegedly seized Mr Kalamiotis and handcuffed him. They also called his wife derogatory names when she tried to bring her husband shoes. Mr Kalamiotis was taken to the police patrol car where he was pulled over the hood of the car and two or three officers began beating him with their fists and with truncheons. Mr Kalamiotis also reported being beaten inside the patrol car by police officers, according to Amnesty International.

According to information received from the GHM, on the way to the police station, police officers repeatedly asked Mr Kalamiotis "who had fired the gun." Mr Kalamiotis told them that he had not heard any shots fired. Once at the police station, an officer who appeared to be in charge and had beaten Mr Kalamiotis more than the rest, began to insult his dead mother. Mr Kalamiotis then asked for some water and was told by the officer to drink from the toilet, which he refused to do. After about half an hour he was given a glass of water. Later, two officers took Mr Kalamiotis into a small room and told him to "ignore the commanding officer."

According to the testimony of the victim, on June 16, 2001, at about 11:00 AM, Mr Kalamiotis reported being escorted to Police Headquarters in Athens by two police officers. There he was photographed and again, his ethnicity was insulted by the police when he asked them to remove his handcuffs to enable him to sit properly. Later that day, he was brought before a public prosecutor with his lawyer and charged with resisting arrest, insulting and threatening police authorities. The first hearing was set for June 18, 2001. On June 18, 2001, Mr Kalamiotis, together with his attorney, went to forensic services to report his injuries and was reportedly refused consultation with the doctor, as according to medical officials, he first had to file a complaint at the police station of Aghia Paraskevi. On the same day, the hearing of Mr Kalamiotis was postponed until February 25, 2002. On July 2, 2001, Mr Kalamiotis finally succeeded in filing a formal complaint against the police with the Greek Ombudsman Office.

(Amnesty International, ERRC, Greek Helsinki Monitor)

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