NEWS

ELA judge says Olympics deadline hampered defense

As the last three of the five suspects in the Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA) terrorism trial were freed from prison when the 18-month detention limit expired yesterday, the presiding judge unexpectedly admitted that the defendants’ rights had been constrained by the need to secure a verdict before the Olympics. In further comments, Elissavet Brilli also remarked on what she described as the weakness of the prosecution’s case against the five alleged left-wing terrorists. «We began a very tough trial, with most insufficient evidence,» she said, in response to a defense lawyer’s complaint that the Justice Ministry had conveyed, through leaks to the press, its displeasure at the way the judges had handled the process – resulting in yesterday’s release of the three imprisoned terrorism suspects. «We tried to unravel the essence of the case, but I am not sure whether we achieved that,» Brilli continued. «What lies beyond doubt is that, if we had more time at our disposal, we would have satisfied more of the defendants’ pleas for truly substantial witnesses to be called to testify. However, we did not have enough time for this, due to the need to accelerate the trial ahead of the Olympic Games,» she said. But Brilli appeared to dismiss fears of external influence being brought to bear on the process, saying that «the trial is taking place inside [the courtroom] and nowhere else.» The ELA trial started on February 9, 11 months after the opening of the November 17 left-wing terrorism trial that ended in December with 15 convictions and four acquittals. The Olympics begin on August 13. The government has reportedly pressed for the trial to be sped up for fear of an international public relations debacle if all five defendants are free during the Games. Architect Christos Tsigaridas, 64, civil engineer Costas Agapiou, 56, electrician and former mayor of Kimolos Angeletos Kanas, 52, travel agency employee Irini Athanassaki, 48 and civil servant Michalis Kassimis, 58, are accused of ELA membership and involvement in 82 acts of terrorism carried out between 1983 and 1995, including two murders. Only Tsigaridas – who has been freed on grounds of poor health – has admitted to group membership. Yesterday, Kanas, Athanassaki and Agapiou were freed, the first two on bail of 4,000 euros, and ordered to stay in Attica pending the end of the trial. Kassimis was released after being charged last year.