NEWS

Prison reform bill passed by Parliament but not without a row

A debate in Parliament over a bill introducing reforms to the country's beleaguered prison system and particularly the creation of "type C" maximum-security cells prompted a terse confrontation between Public Order Minister Haralambos Athanasiou and leftist opposition SYRIZA.

The bill was voted into law with 52 yeas and 48 nays from the 100-member summer session of Parliament.

Earlier, however, tensions mounted when Athanasiou accused SYRIZA of grandstanding after it emerged that several family members of inmates standing accused of belonging to the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire urban guerrilla group had been allowed access to the House to watch the debate. The public order minister suggested that it was SYRIZA who obtained the passes for the relatives of the suspects.

"Your only purpose is to make an impression, without any content and without any respect for the relatives of the inmates," Athanasiou said, addressing the SYRIZA bench.

SYRIZA MP Thodoris Dritsas countered by saying that the public has every right to observe Parliamentary procedure, arguing that the relatives of the terrorism suspects wanted to know whether their visitation rights would be affected by the new legislation.

"You should be the guarantor of the right of the parents to sit in on the discussion of a bill that concerns them... what kind of democracy is this?" Dritsas said, addressing the minister.

The tone escalated further when Athanasiou went on to tacitly accuse SYRIZA of sympathizing with terrorists, charges the leftist MP dismissed as "vulgar."

"If terrorism has been wiped out decades ago in Italy, Germany and France it is because there even the leftist parties condemned it," Athanasiou said.

He also accused the leftist party of making assumptions about the proposed maximum security cells without having read the draft bill in detail, after SYRIZA suggested the government is trying to build a facility modeled on so-called "white cells," in which prisoners are kept under conditions of extreme duress.

"Anyone who knows anything about the 'white cells' that once existed in Germany and Turkey, also knows that they meant constant solitary confinement, no visitations or communications and constant pressure," said Athanasiou. "What does this have to do with establishing a level of security equal to that in Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the Scandinavian countries, whose laws were factored into the drafting of the bill?"

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