OPINION

Crime and (lack of) punishment

Police officers misbehave now and again in all democratic countries. And they always have. The alleged beating of a Cypriot student by a group of policemen could have happened in the best of organized societies. And it has. Every power cell has certain dangerous elements within it that are capable of exceeding the limits of the law and every police force contains a certain number of thugs who have abused defenseless citizens and taken human lives. Fortunately, democracy is not judged by its deviant police officers but by the behavior of the rest of them, by the reaction of the healthy majority of the force and the political leadership that guides them. And this applies to our democracy as much as to any other. We cannot draw conclusions from the actions of the thugs alleged to have beaten up 24-year-old Avgoustinos Dimitriou in Thessaloniki but from the reaction of the state to such criminal phenomena. And unfortunately this is where our democracy appears to be lacking. It is not just the despicable incident in Thessaloniki last Friday. It is not just the ludicrous announcement by the Thessaloniki police department, blaming a flower pot for the severe injuries sustained by the Cypriot student. It is not even the pitiful presence of a senior police official on television and his ironic treatment of the shameful incident. It is the sense that all these people’s actions and provocations go unpunished. And unfortunately this impression is not unfounded. There is a substantial history of police arbitrariness and cover-ups in this country. According to the Greek Helsinki Monitor: «Greece is not free of the global trends displayed by law enforcers of frequently violating the rights of citizens during their arrest, their interrogation and their detention. This stance is effectively assisted by judicial authorities which rarely persecute such criminal behavior.» On the occasions that the judiciary does take action, these cases get to court years after the fact and even then incriminating evidence is sometimes overlooked by the courts, the organization noted. Also, police officers under investigation are often allowed to remain on the force during that time and so are in a position to negatively influence those who dare to testify against them, the organization added. There is a problem with the Greek police and it is about time the judiciary noticed it. Previous exemptions led to the incident in Thessaloniki. If there is another exemption in the case of the Thessaloniki beating, this will only lead to further arbitrariness.