Minister rejects N17 convicts’ demands over jail conditions

Greece’s justice minister yesterday rejected a demand for improved prison conditions made by the chief assassin of the country’s deadliest terrorist group, who has been on hunger strike for nearly a month. Anastassis Papaligouras said no changes would be made in conditions at purpose-built cells at an Athens maximum-security prison where 15 members of the far-left militant group November 17 are serving sentences ranging from life to eight years. Dimitris Koufodinas, who was convicted for 13 of the group’s 23 killings, was hospitalized last week in serious condition. The group’s main hit man has been on hunger strike for 26 days – drinking only water. Four of the other November 17 terrorists have also been on hunger strikes ranging from six to 19 days. «They are being held in small groups in isolation from the other prisoners, in basement cells with a window slightly above ground,» Koufodinas’s lawyer Gianna Kourtovic told The Associated Press. The cells are located underneath a bunker-like courtroom that was built for their trial. «Their yard is caged with no direct contact with the sky… this is unacceptable. It is a matter of personal dignity.» She said Koufodinas was «very weak» and in failing health. He has refused to allow doctors to feed him intravenously. Koufodinas has been demanding an end to the special detention rules. Papaligouras, who visited the prison on Tuesday, said Koufodinas’s rights as a prisoner had not been violated. The Athens Bar Association and small Left Coalition Synaspismos political party have both criticized the conditions of the prisoners’ incarceration. Petros Yiotis, who has been campaigning to improve their prison conditions, said a demonstration is planned for today in central Athens to protest the justice minister’s decision. «There is no legal basis for their treatment,» Yiotis said. «It’s not enough just to condemn this situation, we must actively speak out against it.»