N17 suspect is released from prison

One of the 19 defendants in the trial of suspected members of November 17 was released from prison yesterday because a judicial council had neglected to renew the order for his temporary detention earlier this month. The continued detention of Anestis Papanastasiou prompted a walkout by most of the defense lawyers, halting the trial on Monday and yesterday. The Council of Appeals Court Judges ruled yesterday that Papanastasiou should be released immediately. He is prohibited from leaving Athens. When the trial resumes today, he will be joining Yiannis Serifis as the only two defendants who are free to walk out of the Korydallos Prison courtroom at the end of each day’s proceedings. The others are held in special cells below the courtroom. Papanastasiou, a 41-year-old bank clerk from Thessaloniki, was arrested on January 9. Most other defendants were picked up in a few frantic weeks after June 29 last year, when self-confessed member Savvas Xeros was injured by a bomb he was carrying, giving police their first big break after a 27-year hunt. Papanastasiou is accused of being a member of N17 from April 1984 until his arrest, but is not charged with any specific act. The group killed 23 people between 1975 and 2000. The Council of Appeals Court Judges said in its 25-page ruling yesterday that the competent judicial council was obliged to extend a detention order within 30 days after a suspect spent an initial six months in detention. In Papanastasiou’s case this was on August 9. But as the council had not done this, prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas ruled that as the trial was continuing, Papanastasiou’s detention could continue. Defense lawyers cried that this was a «judicial putsch.» The appeals court judges ruled yesterday that as the judicial council had not ruled on Papanastasiou, «the competent prosecutor, G. Sanidas, ought to have ordered his release from prison.» It found that the defendant’s protest against his continued detention were «essentially justified and, therefore, accepted.» Papanastasiou’s lawyer, Dimitris Tentolouris, called yesterday «a bright day for justice. It proves that justice is alive and corrects its mistakes.»