Full investigation

The ruling by the Magistrates’ Council of Thessaloniki yesterday to release seven anti-globalization activists, arrested during riots on the fringe of the European Union summit meeting in Halkidiki in June, was met with public relief at home and abroad. Even at the eleventh hour, Greece was spared the humiliation of becoming the first European state to mourn the deaths of political prisoners as a result of hunger strikes since Bobby Sands and another 10 republican prisoners died from hunger strikes in 1981 during Margaret Thatcher’s rule in Britain. «Greece’s justice system took a responsible and unbiased decision – as it has always done,» Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos said. However, had it not been for the recent wave of protests, the Greek authorities would, most likely, have yet to realize the catastrophic political consequences. Some government officials probably thought that taking a hard line against the suspects would discourage would-be demonstrators but, at some point, realized that the whole thing had escaped their control, as the detainees were held ransom to other interests. In a very alarming development, and following months of foot-dragging, the authorities yesterday morning tried to solve the problem by shifting it onto the shoulders of the inmates’ doctors. Accordingly, a prosecutor issued an order to force-feed the hunger strikers and threatened to charge the doctors with premeditated murder should any of the strikers die. In other words, the government, the police and the judiciary were to be absolved of any blame and all responsibility would have fallen on the doctors trying to keep them alive. This pitiful story highlights that some state functionaries fall far short of their expected roles in a democratic society. Increased security demands cannot be met by violating fundamental political freedoms and rights. Worse still, they cannot be met by fabricating evidence in order to incriminate the suspects – that must be said in case it turns turn out that the police planted evidence, at least in one case. This case of the anti-capitalist protesters must not end this way. The justifiable sense of relief of having avoided the worse must not lead to oblivion or block further investigation into the murkier aspects of a case that has tainted Greece’s image abroad and shaken public confidence in the workings of our liberal democracy.