Debate hots up on immunity at universities

As annual celebrations marking a 1973 student uprising against Greece’s dictatorship peak today, debate has intensified as to whether the immunity from authorities provided to the university community should continue. About 5,500 police officers will be guarding different parts of the city to deal with any outbreaks of violence as Athenians gather to commemorate a student uprising against the military dictatorship 33 years ago. Three days of celebrations end today with the annual march on the US Embassy. Traffic in central Athens will be cut off for much of the day with public transport also affected. Police have been closely guarding the city’s universities this week in an effort to keep anarchist groups from entering campuses and damaging the facilities as was done in the past. Outbreaks of violence have lasted for days in previous years. Police are not allowed to enter universities due to a law that is aimed at helping to protect freedom of thought among the campus community. However, this protection has come under increasing fire this year. Academics agree that the immunity should continue to exist but argue that the law needs to be improved to avoid cases of abuse. «Protection from the immunity must be continued. However, we need to review the immunity and the meaning behind this immunity,» Giorgos Venieris, dean of the Athens University of Economics and Business, told Kathimerini. «Does the immunity protect the drug trade?» he added. Interpretations of the law offering academics and students protection are mixed, with some legal experts saying that police always have had the right to storm university grounds. However, political leaders were reluctant to give the order for fear of political backlash. In a sign that immunity may be lifted this year, prosecutor Vassilis Floridis asked the chief of police in Thessaloniki, Antonios Bamiatzis, last week for «an operational plan to be readied for police to enter universities and arrest suspects.» The government has dodged the issue by saying that it is a matter being handled by judicial authorities. «The immunity is something that needs to be protected by both sides. On the side of the university, the deans that have the ability to lift the immunity… as do the students,» said Giorgos Zervas, the dean at the Agricultural University of Athens.

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