‘Underestimating’ police brutality

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) yesterday released the results of its latest inspection of Greek prisons and detention facilities, in which it reported cases of alleged mistreatment of detainees and inadequate detention facilities. It noted that overcrowding, outdated facilities and drug abuse were the biggest problems of the prison system, although improvements had been made since its last visits in 1996 and 1999. The 77-page report followed a visit from Sept. 23 to Oct. 5, 2001, and was adopted by the CPT in March. It was released with a 66-page, unusually detailed response by Greece’s ministries of Public Order, Justice, Merchant Marine and Health. The CPT delegation paid particular attention to the situation of people held under aliens legislation and noted that the aliens law of April 26, 2001 had brought about specific changes regarding detention under immigration rules. «The most salient development concerns the new three-month limit on detention by administrative decision of foreigners awaiting removal. The law also stipulates that a detention order can be the subject of judicial review and that appeals against removal orders entail their suspension.» The delegation condemned what it had found at Kozani and Iraklion police headquarters. «Conditions of detention in those establishments were wholly unacceptable and the delegation called upon the Greek authorities to take steps immediately to remedy the shortcomings observed,» it said. The Public Order Ministry, in its response, said that «whatever disadvantages highlighted by the committee with regard to places of detention are attributable, to a certain extent, to the existing building infrastructure. However, every effort is being made for these places to acquire the functionality required and serious steps have been taken to this end, either through the creation of new places of detention or the repair of existing ones.» Regarding alleged ill-treatment, the CPT found that this involved mostly police but, in some cases, coast guard officials as well. «The ill-treatment alleged consisted mostly of kicks and blows with hands, fists, batons or various other objects, often inflicted during questioning. Certain allegations also involved the use of excessive force at the time of arrest, or ill-treatment of prisoners during transfers,» the report said. «In a few cases, the delegation’s doctors found that the persons concerned bore marks which were consistent with their allegations of ill-treatment.» It noted allegations made by one person at Hania police headquarters, two at Igoumenitsa police headquarters, and one at the Piraeus Port Police station claiming they had been beaten by officers. «The CPT wishes to add that the head of the Coast Guard Police at Piraeus Port and certain officers under his command volunteered that, on occasion, ‘some force’ was used during interrogations to obtain information from detainees, particularly those arrested in connection with drug-related offences. When questioned further on this point, he made clear that he would not tolerate severe ill-treatment, but consented to slaps. This was said to allow progress in the investigation and, possibly, to arrest additional suspects, and would ultimately be to the detained person’s own benefit, given that the judicial authorities would view positively their ‘cooperation’ with the police,» the report said. «Further, during conversations held with law enforcement officials in several of the establishments visited, the delegation could not fail to note the disrespectful attitude displayed by some officers when referring to detainees, particularly those of Albanian origin.» «In response to previous CPT visit reports, the Greek authorities have argued that cases of police ill-treatment are few and far between, and that police misconduct meets with appropriate… responses,» the report said. «In the light of the information available to the CPT, it would appear that the Greek authorities are seriously underestimating the scale of… ill-treatment… by law enforcement officials,» it said. «The CPT has noted the steps taken to implement the Committee’s recommendation that police officers receive the… message that the ill-treatment of detained persons is not acceptable and that such conduct will be severely sanctioned.»

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