US targets human rights in Greece

Ethnic minorities such as the Roma (Gypsy) population faced «widespread discrimination» last year in Greece, while the police sometimes abused illegal immigrants and Roma, according to the US State Department’s annual global rights report that was released on Monday. «The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas,» the State Department underscored in its 17-page report on Greece for 2001. According to the report, security force personnel sometimes abused individuals, particularly illegal immigrants and Roma, while «there was a report of an isolated police killing of a Rom.» The State Department took particular note in its report of the overcrowding and harsh conditions that continue to prevail in some Greek prisons, and the often «squalid conditions» of detention centers where police were holding undocumented immigrants. The rights of women were also violated according to the State Department, which declares that «violence and discrimination against women were problems» and that «the trafficking in women and girls into the country for the purpose of prostitution was a problem.» On religious freedom, the report underlines reports of some progress, with the leaders of minority religions noting a general improvement in governmental tolerance. Even so, it is the State Department’s assessment that «laws restrictive of freedom of speech remained in force, and some legal restrictions and administrative obstacles on freedom of religion persisted.» According to the State Department, although the Greek Constitution specifically forbids torture and is punishable by a sentence of three years to life imprisonment, «security force personnel occasionally abused persons, particularly illegal immigrants and Roma,» citing a report on Greece issued last May by the UN Committee Against Torture. «There were reports that in June Port Authority personnel abused 164 migrants who came ashore in Hania, Crete,» the report says. «There were allegations of brutal beatings and the attempted rape of a youth with a truncheon. The Port Authority chief claimed that injuries occurred during fights and attempted escapes.» The State Department declares that although the Merchant Marine Ministry initiated disciplinary proceedings against one officer and two harbor guards, no one had been charged in the case by year’s end. Citing information from human rights groups, the report notes minority groups such as Albanians and Roma faced mistreatment by police. «Roma experienced police abuse more frequently than some groups,» the State Department declared. «Amnesty International called on the authorities to conduct an impartial investigation into allegations made by Andreas Kalamiotis, a 21-year-old Rom, who claimed that he was beaten and mistreated by police in July while in custody for disturbing neighbors in Aghia Paraskevi with loud music. No one had been charged in the case by year’s end.» In October a police officer shot and killed Rom Marinos Christopoulos after Christopoulos drove a truck through a police checkpoint, the report notes. The officer was arrested and jailed on October 24, but when he was released on bail five days later, Roma rioted in the Zefyra area of Athens. «Immigrants – mostly Albanian citizens – accused police of physical, verbal, and other mistreatment (including the confiscation and destruction of their documents), particularly during police sweeps to apprehend illegal immigrants,» the report underlines, but it also stresses that «the severity of this problem diminished during the year due to legislation that allowed immigrants to regularize their status.» Meanwhile, the State Department notes that conditions in some prisons remained «harsh» due to substantial overcrowding and outdated facilities. «As of September, the Justice Ministry reported that the total prison population was 8,389 inmates, while the total capacity of the prison system was 5,284,» the report underscores. «In two cases involving the imprisonment of foreign drug traffickers, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concluded in August that prison conditions sometimes amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment. The court cited overcrowding and inadequate facilities in the cases and ordered the government to pay $13,000 (5 million drachmas) to each plaintiff.» In a country where the constitution established the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ (Greek Orthodoxy) as the «prevailing» religion, and only the Orthodox Church and the Jewish and Muslim religions are considered by law to be «legal persons of public law,» the State Department notes that although the leaders of minority religions note a general improvement in governmental tolerance, some restrictions persisted. «In February 2000, the Scientologists submitted an application for recognition as a known religion,» the report says. «Although the period mandated by law for processing the application is three months, the ministry waited until October 2000 to decide that it would not recognize the Scientology community as an ‘official’ religion.» According to the report, after the ministry denied the Scientologists their application for recognition and a house of prayer permit on the grounds that Scientology «is not a religion,» the «Church of Scientology appealed the decision to the Council of State in December 2000, and the case was pending at the year’s end.» Moreover, according to the State Department, several religious denominations, including foreign Protestants and Mormons, reported difficulty in renewing the visas of their ministers who are not citizens of European Union states because the Greek government does not have a distinct religious workers’ visa category. In respect to the Muslim minority in Thrace, recognized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the report states that Muslim students in Turkish-language schools receive poor quality education when compared to Greek schools. «Observers agree that the education provided in these schools is lower quality than that in other Greek schools,» the State Department declares. According to the report, over 8,000 Muslim children attended Turkish-language primary schools in Thrace last year, and an additional 150 attended two bilingual middle schools with a religious curriculum. Approximately 700 attended Turkish-language secondary schools, and approximately 1,300 attended Greek-language secondary schools. Thrace has Koranic and secular Turkish-language schools. The State Department says that Muslims living away from Thrace have difficulties in receiving quality education in Turkish, while the Greek government maintains that Muslims outside of Thrace are not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne. Another issue of concern for the State Department is violence against women, stressing that Greek law «does not specifically prohibit domestic violence.» «The incidence of violence against women reported to the authorities is low; however, the General Secretariat for Equality of the Sexes (GSES), an independent government agency that operates the only shelter for battered women in Athens, believes that the actual incidence is ‘high,’» the report notes. «According to press and academic estimates, there were approximately 4,500 cases of rape in 1999. Reportedly only 6 to 10 percent of the victims contact the police, and only a small fraction of the cases reaches trial.» According to the State Department, the GSES claims that police tend to discourage women from pursuing domestic violence charges and instead get them to undertake reconciliation efforts. Spousal rape is a crime under Greek law. Prostitution is legal in Greece, and the State Department underscores that prostitutes must register at the local prefecture and carry a medical card that is updated every two weeks. Illegal prostitution, says the report, is on the rise, sustained mainly by foreign women brought into the country illegally, a trend which also is reportedly on the rise. «It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 prostitutes are ethnic Greeks, and approximately 20,000 are of foreign origin – most of them in the country illegally,» the report notes. Police reports estimate that 1,311 women were arrested as illegal immigrants from January to September. According to an assessment by an academic observer cited in the report, approximately 40,000 women, most of them between the ages of 12 and 25, are trafficked into the country each year for prostitution.

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