Antonis Aravantinos, the warden at the psychiatric ward of Korydallos Prison in western Athens, earned a degree of notoriety last year for responding to journalists’ questions regarding a swimming pool that had been built illegally in the facility’s courtyard with the following simple and incredulous response: “Did I get a license from the town-planning department? Whatever for?”
The state worker clearly believed that he could interpret and apply national regulations regarding construction according to his own personal criteria, and that he could break the law without getting punished.
What is even stranger than his incredulity is that a long list of legal actions against Aravantinos have all proved futile, mainly because witnesses who were supposed to testify against him have invariably retracted their initial statements.
In contrast, a lawsuit that Aravantinos filed against journalist Nikos Vafeiadis over an investigative piece he wrote in 1997 about organized groups conducting illegal activities in Greece’s prisons and the role of officials in those groups continues unabated.
The lawsuit was first rejected by a first instance court in 2005 and then by two subsequent appeals courts in 2006 and 2012, yet the journalist continues to find himself in its clutches, much like a hostage. The reason is that despite being denied three times, Aravantinos has twice asked the Supreme Court to overturn the second appeals court’s decision, and now one Supreme Court judge has listened to his claim and decided to overrule the decisions made by all three previous courts. He is demanding that the case be retried.
The court of first instance and the appeals courts had concluded that, in his piece, the journalist was presenting evidence whose purpose was to inform the public about the declining state of the country’s correctional facilities and the kind of illegal activities that were going on within them, to the detriment of society at large.
In this sense, all three courts defended the freedom of the press and public speech and the common good.
The question is: What was the Supreme Court judge thinking when he decided against freedom of the press and in favor of a civil servant with a rather questionable record of service who claims not to have known that he needed a license to build a swimming pool in a public space?
Who can say what he was thinking? All we can hope is that the judiciary finally decides to put an end to this rigmarole and sends the message that all of society needs to hear: that justice is being served.