The coalition has come under severe attack for its reaction to a court’s decision to reject an appeal by a 29-year-old PhD student who was recently convicted for being a member of an urban guerrilla group, which led to extensive vandalism in central Athens on Monday night.
Dozens of shops in the city center were attacked hours after the Athens Appeals Court ruled that the student, known in the local media as Irianna, should not be released from custody as she appeals her 13-year jail sentence for being part of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire.
Immediately after the ruling, Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis described the judges’ decision as an “unpleasant surprise.” Speaking on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said the decision would be recorded in the “black book” of Greek justice.
Following the vandalism in downtown Athens, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas of being unable to carry out his job. He also claimed that the government is “deeply damaging democracy and offering an alibi to blind violence.”
The opposition cheif called on all citizens to stand against the “institutional backsliding” that he believes is being caused by the government. The conservative party said that it was unprecedented for a justice minister to comment on a judicial verdict. It accused Kontonis of being the “moral instigator” of Monday night’s violence.
Some 500 people took part in a protest at Monastiraki Square in central Athens on Monday night. A smaller group of around 150-200 people then walked up Ermou Street and started to attack shop windows with rocks, hammers and other items. They were chased away by riot police when they approached the Finance Ministry near the top of the commercial street.
The protesters threw flares and smokebombs at the police, who responded with tear gas. More than 60 stores were damaged during the disturbances, along with three parked cars and four ATMs. Fourteen people were detained but they were not linked to the vandalism.
A text published on the anarchist Indymedia website later suggested that protests over the jailing of Irianna would continue.
Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis decried the attacks and the police’s reaction after visiting Ermou Street on Tuesday morning to see the damage that was caused the night before. He described the incident as being “beyond any rules of democracy.”
The mayor called on the government to change the legislation so that suspects detained in connection with vandalism can be remanded in custody rather than released after a few hours. He expressed his concern that attacks such as Monday’s would damage commercial activity in the center at a time when trade had been picking up.
“Store owners go to open their stores on Sunday and they will not let them,” he told Kathimerini, referring to a weekend protest against shops opening outside the usual hours. “Then, people come at night and smash up their stores. This cannot happen in a modern European city.”