N17’s crimes not political, court decides

The killings, bombings and bank robberies carried out between 1975 and 2002 by the extreme far-left November 17 terrorist organization cannot be regarded as political crimes, and therefore the 19 alleged group members on trial in Korydallos prison have no right to be tried by jury, the court decided yesterday. And in an indication that after nine days of debating procedural issues arising from defense objections the court will soon get down to brass tacks, presiding judge Michalis Margaritis told witnesses for the first three charges – the 1984 killing of policeman Christos Matis and attempted killing of US sergeant Robert Judd, and the 1985 killing of Apoyevmatini newspaper editor Nikos Momferatos and his driver, Panayiotis Roussetis – to be ready to testify on Monday. The three judges debated the nature of N17’s crimes during a one-and-a-half-hour recess, before Margaritis issued the verdict. «The court is led to rule that these are not political crimes,» he said. «A political crime is that which is aimed directly at the current political system and tends to overthrow or change the nature of the establishment which exists in accordance with that system.» He added that any other crime «even if committed by the perpetrator because of his beliefs or principles or with the aim of achieving such targets» cannot be deemed political. It was the first time a Greek court defined the abstract notion of «political crime,» as mentioned in the Constitution. According to the Constitution, «political crimes» come under the jurisdiction of jury courts. But a special anti-terrorism law passed in 2001 – under which the 19 defendants were indicted – decreed that terrorism suspects should be tried in criminal appeals courts. Throughout the week, defense lawyers strove to persuade the three judges that N17’s crimes were political, with suspected group mastermind Alexandros Yotopoulos’s counsel arguing that N17 was the «aggressive left» and the «quarry turned hunter.» The court also decided yesterday the 2001 law is constitutional and can be applied to the «perpetual» crime of mere membership of a terrorist group without retroactiveness being a problem.

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