Incredible, but true cases

A lawyer was illegally detained for six hours because his description of a person who had robbed him the previous night turned out not to have been the perpetrator. Petros Constantinou, coordinator of the Genoa 2001 Initiative, was held for 17 hours at the Acropolis police station and then charged due to an outstanding warrant against him which turned out to be non-existent. A 24-year-old man died during the pursuit of a group of young men police thought were anarchists but were just young men on motorcycles taking an injured friend to the hospital. One of the bikers slowed down and the police car crashed into it, killing the rider. A lawyer was kept under surveillance during the search for a client of his who was wanted by police. These are all cases from the Greek Police (ELAS) files released to the press earlier this month. Perhaps the most amazing of all, however, was the fact that an identity card was issued to Vassilis Stefanakos, a fugitive from justice who had been sentenced to 14.5 years’ imprisonment for extortion. Cases such as these present the police force as tormentors of anyone unlucky enough to become involved in their unorthodox methods that sometimes can be described as an abuse of power. «These days arbitrary action by the police and judiciary has reached a peak,» said lawyer Costas Papadakis. «Police use unnecessary force, often overstepping all boundaries, as in the government’s response to demonstrations. Legitimizing violence makes it even easier for police to overstep those bounds.» Victims of most of the above-mentioned cases take recourse to justice in the form of lawsuits while preliminary investigations are held. Court rulings are usually a long time in coming, often years in the case of a lawsuit. According to Papadakis, there are similar problems within the judiciary. «There always have been, but they have reached a peak over the past two years, since the revelations of para-judicial rackets, as all acquittals or lenient rulings are being reviewed as suspicious by definition. Harshness and arbitrary decisions are being used as a way of guaranteeing integrity.» The president of the Prosecutors’ Union of Greece, Sotiris Bayias, focused on the results of this kind of behavior. «Wrong – and often unacceptable – behavior by the agents of state authority is the main reason for the breakdown in people’s confidence in institutions. That lack of trust is of particular concern and I would say it is a major social problem with broader negative effects on the way the state operates within our democratic form of government. As a result, responsibility for restoring people’s faith in the institutions lies mainly with those who created the problem in the first place – that is, the direct or indirect representatives of state authority.» Bayias said that everyone in a position of power should carry out their duties within a spirit of understanding and with respect for individual rights and liberties. «Above all, we have to realize that we are carrying out our duties in the name of the Greek people,» he said. Two weeks ago, Constantinou lodged a suit for moral damage against the duty officer at the Acropolis police station, against all those ELAS officers responsible for the operation of documenting fugitives at the Attica General Police Headquarters and for his detention. He also sued Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras for moral complicity in his arbitrary and illegal detention, since «his recent statements in Parliament… have instigated a policy of zero tolerance against citizens… by police officers.»