Although the new Penal Code may indeed provide for stricter penalties for those responsible for fires, the data over the last 20 years suggest that a regime of impunity has reigned supreme regarding the treatment of arsonists.
According to official figures gathered by 50 prosecutors and 45 courts across the country, a total of 19,712 people have been prosecuted since 2000 for arson either through negligence or intent.
Only 564 were convicted – i.e. staggeringly low 2.8%.
Even lower, at just 2.6%, is the conviction rate for those prosecuted for intentional arson. This means that out of the 2,796 people prosecuted for intentional arson, only 74 were convicted, with very few going to prison.
The picture is no better regarding negligent arson, with sentencing rates at 6.5%. That is, out of 7,463 prosecutions, there were just 490 convictions.
Until recently, Greek legislation punished arson mainly as a misdemeanor and only in exceptional cases as a felony, as suggested by the negligible amount of convictions.
What’s more, the justice system has rarely exhausted the limits of its possibilities – even if the law was not strict – to secure temporary detentions of arsonists or to send arsonists to prison.
A case in point was the fire in Mati, eastern Attica, in 2018, which left 102 dead and hundreds injured.
Although government officials (fire brigade, civil protection etc) were prosecuted, as well as local authorities, the citizen who set the initial fire got off lightly, as his case went under the radar of judicial authorities and the media.
However, the scale of this summer’s disaster, which mobilized the government, state mechanisms, local government and citizens alike, did not leave out the justice system, which this time proceeded to severely deal with those arrested for arson.
In Athens alone four people were sent to prison with five-year terms.
The shift of the judicial authorities, as expressed this summer by the Athens Prosecutor’s Office, but also by other prosecutors, in dealing with those arrested for arson, reflected the state’s determination to finally take strict action against responsible parties.