Physical Abuse of Roma by Greek Police
10 May 2003
On October 7, 2002, at around 10:30 AM, 24-year-old Mr Stavros Stephanou, 19-year-old Mr Nikos Theodoropoulos, 17-year-old Apostolos Sainis, 19-year-old Mr Christos Papadimitriou and 17-year-old Speros Christodoulopoulos, were physically and verbally assaulted by police officers in the area of Aghios Stephanos, a suburb of Athens, according to testimony provided by the five Roma to the ERRC, in partnership with the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) on October 10, 2002. Mr Papadimitriou testified to the ERRC/GHM that, on the morning in question, he and Speros Christodoulopoulos were collecting scrap metal to sell when their van broke down. They rolled the van into the courtyard of a factory and were trying to fix it when two ethnic Greek men appeared, claiming to be the owners of the factory, and asked them what they were doing. After Mr Papadimitriou and Speros Christodoulopoulos explained that they were fixing their van, the men reportedly left and locked the gate to the factory without informing them. In the meanwhile, according to Mr Stephanou, he, Mr Theodoropoulos, and Apostolos Sainis, who were also out collecting scrap metal, pulled up outside the factory and, finding it locked, left the site. As they were leaving the site, they were reportedly pulled over by two police officers who had got out of their vehicle and pointed their guns at the three Roma, ordering them to get out of the car and put their hands in the air. Mr Stephanou, Mr Theodoropoulos, and Apostolos Sainis did as ordered and when asked what they were doing, explained that they had been looking for scrap metal. Mr Stephanou stated that one of the officers ordered them to put their hands behind their heads and their faces on the car's hood. Mr Stephanou testified that one of the officers proceeded to beat him for about one minute with a truncheon on his back and legs as the other officer stood guard. The other officer then handcuffed Apostolos Sainis and the officer who had beaten Mr Stephanou retrieved some rope from Mr Stephanou's truck and tied up Mr Stephanou and Mr Theodoropoulos. One of the officers then asked Mr Stephanou whether there was anybody else with them and he replied that there was not. The police officer began kneeing Mr Stephanou and swearing profusely at the three, insulting their mothers and threatening to kill them "[j]ust like my brother killed the other Gypsy, Marinos" (information on the killing of Mr Christopoulos Marinos by a police officer is available at:
- Killing of Romani man by police in Greece ). At this point, three ethnic Greek men, the owners of the factory, arrived and accused the three Roma of stealing. The officer who had threatened the Roma continued insulting them and asked Mr Stephanou whether they had stolen anything. The owner then proceeded to unlock the courtyard's door and inform the police officers that another two Romani men were inside. The second officer entered the factory and returned with Mr Papadimitriou and Speros Christodoulopoulos. Four officers in uniform and two plainclothes officers arrived and one of the uniformed officers hit Mr Theodoropoulos twice on his back with a truncheon (Mr Theodoropoulos had previously been physically abused by Greek police officers. For details, see:
- Killing of Romani man by police in Greece ). The five Romani men were then placed in the police vehicle where Mr Papadimitriou heard an officer say on his car radio that they had resisted arrest. They arrived at the Aghios Stephanos Police Station at around 1:00 PM, where all five Roma reported being repeatedly slapped before they were placed in cells and asked to hand over their mobile phones. According to Mr Stephanou, the five Roma were not informed of the reason for their arrest and were not provided with food until 11:00 PM, after which they were finally also permitted to use the toilet. Mr Papadimitriou reported that only when Mr Stephanou threatened to injure himself were they allowed to inform their families that they had been arrested. The five Romani men were reportedly taken to the General Police Directorate of Attika shortly before midnight, still on October 7. At the General Police Directorate, Mr Stephanou stated, they were photographed and fingerprinted and, after some time, they were taken to Misdemeanours Court of Athens. According to Mr Stephanou, he, Mr Papadimitriou, Speros Christodoulopoulos, Mr Theodoropoulos and Apostolos Sainis were tried and convicted of grand theft and were sentenced to ten months imprisonment each. Mr Stephanou told the ERRC/GHM that all five Roma immediately appealed the verdict and were released. On October 9, 2002, Mr Papadimitriou, Speros Christodoulopoulos, Mr Stephanou and Mr Theodoropoulos filed criminal complaints against the officers at the Aghios Stephanos Police Station at the Zefyri Police Station. As of March 13, 2003, the ERRC/GHM was unaware whether an investigation had been undertaken into the actions of the officers involved.
24-year-old Stavros Stepanou