Romani Youth Sexually Harassed by Police in Detention in Greece
07 May 2002
According to information provided to the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and the ERRC, on November 1, 2001, five Romani individuals, Mr Nikos Aristopoulos, 22, Mr Nikos Panayotopoulos, 34, Thanassis Panayotopoulos, 17, Mr Trifonas Panayotopoulos, 23, and Yiorgos Panayotopoulos, 16, were beaten by police officers in the town of Zaharo, in Western Peloponesse. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos also reportedly suffered sexual abuse by one of the officers. According to testimony provided to ERRC/GHM by Yiorgos Panayotopoulos on November 3, 2001, the five Roma were travelling in their car on the date of the incident, when at approximately 1:00 AM, they were pulled over by between ten and fifteen police officers and told to get out of the car. Reportedly, when three of the officers present performed a body search on Thanassis Panayotopoulos, a firearm was found. One of the officers performing the search allegedly proceeded to slap him several times. During the body searches, other officers also found two shotguns in the car, only one of which the Roma had the necessary license for. All five Romani men were then reportedly taken to the local police station, where they claimed that the firearms were family heirlooms that did not work effectively, and that they were on their way to an engagement ceremony. Unconvinced, the officers at the station reportedly performed a search of Yiorgos Panayotopoulos, who had not been searched previously, during which they found another firearm. According to Yiorgos Panayotopoulos’ statement, the four police officers who were present became incensed and began swearing at the Roma, while one of the officers – Officer B. – slapped Yiorgos Panayotopoulos. Soon thereafter, Officer B. and another police officer led Yiorgos Panayotopoulos to an adjacent office. Officer B. then allegedly showed Yiorgos Panayotopoulos his police-issued firearm, released the loaded ammunition magazine, replaced it in the firearm, removed the safety, placed it against Yiorgos Panayotopoulos’s head and asked him if he wanted to be shown “how a gun can kill.” Yiorgos Panayotopoulos reports that for approximately 20 minutes, he was alone in the office with the two police officers, during which time Officer B. repeatedly slapped him and at least once attempted to kick him in the genitals.
Yiorgos Panayotopoulos alleges that he was then ordered by Officer B. to lower his trousers, which he did and then put them back on. He was then told to take off his socks, and as he bent over to do so, the other police officer hit him with the butt of his firearm one time in the back, causing Yiorgos Panayotopoulos severe pain. According to Yiorgos Panayotopoulos’ statement, he was again told by Officer B. to lower his trousers, as well as his underwear, so he could check whether he was hiding something. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos allegedly lowered his pants, then briefly lowered his underwear. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos claims that Officer B. then asked him why he had put his underwear back on and ordered him to take them off. During this time, Yiorgos Panayotopoulos told the ERRC/GHM that Officer B. was circling him, making indecent gestures towards him, while toying with a collapsible truncheon, and swearing at him, threatening to sexually assault him. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos refused to remove his underwear, while trying not to expose his back to Officer B. Officer B. then allegedly tried to take the underwear off him, but Yiorgos Panayotopoulos moved away from him. In his statement to ERRC/GHM, Yiorgos Panayotopoulos reported that, at this point, another police officer entered the office, told his two colleagues to stop and asked them if they knew what would happen to them if they sexually abused the boy. Officer B. reportedly stopped threatening Yiorgos Panayotopoulos and he was led to the office where the other four Roma were, and all five of them were taken one-by-one to a detention cell. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos alleges that, before entering the detention cell, the Roma were asked to take off their shoes. As Yiorgos Panayotopoulos was doing so, Officer B threatened him with sexual violence. While in the detention cell, Yiorgos Panayotopoulos reported to ERRC/GHM that none of the Roma were provided with either food or water, and they were not allowed to go to the toilet. The mattresses were also dirty and no sheets were issued.
Beginning at 6:00 AM on November 1, 2001, the police reportedly took the Romani men one-by-one from the detention cell to take their statements. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos reports that when he was summoned, one of the two police officers present advised him to tell the truth, otherwise he would call Officer B. to sexually assault him. The officers then allegedly asked Yiorgos Panayotopoulos where he, his friends and relatives were going when they had been arrested, where they had found the firearms and for what purpose they were planning to use them. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos explained that they were going to an engagement ceremony, where they had planned to fire the guns, which were family heirlooms, into the air. The police officers took notes but reportedly did not ask Yiorgos Panayotopoulos to sign any documents.
At around 11:00 AM, the Roma were brought to the Police Station of Pyrgos, where they were detained until they were taken to the Court. On the way to the court, Yiorgos Panayotopoulos reported that Officer B. kicked his legs as he was walking down the stairs and he almost fell. The court granted the Roma one day to prepare their defence, and released them from custody.
The five Roma appeared before the court on Friday, November 2, 2001, and were tried for illegal possession of firearms. Yiorgos Panayotopoulos, Thanassis Panayotopoulos and Mr Nikos Aristopoulos were acquitted, while Mr Nikos Panayotopoulos and Mr Trifonas Panayotopoulos were sentenced to 7 months imprisonment and received a fine of 200,000 Greek drachmas (approximately 588 euros). They appealed the Court’s decision on the same day and were released from custody. Mr Nikos Panayotopoulos, along with his son Yiorgos Panayotopoulos, submitted a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman’s Office on January 3, 2002, in connection with the sexual harassment and physical abuse Yiorgos suffered while in police custody. As of April 23, 2002, there had been no reaction from the Ombudsman, and no decision in the appeal.