Written by: Aphrodite Babasi
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane Treatment, which is part of the European Council comes to our country every year in order to assess immigrant detention centres, to identify existing issues and provide with solutions to situations considered as ‘problematic’.
The ministries responsible for running the detention centres in Greece are obliged to respond to very specific questions posed by the Committee. This year, the Greek government has decided not to publish the report, which summarises important issues identified by the Committee during its last visit in Spring 2013. The government, also avoided to make available the answers to specific questions that were given in writing by the Committee. Eventually, the document was given to publicity, since the issue was raised by Maria Giannakaki amidst a parliamentary control processes, however there were 8 pages missing and ofcourse the responses of the Greek government were retracted.
We could think of an array of reasons why the government did not want to inform the public on the existing conditions in immigrant detention centres across the country, especially since the report was generated by an international body. Until this day, the European Court of Human Rights has issued fines of total monetary value 1.5 million Euro regarding legislative violations in immigrant detention centres across Greece. Another 150 cases are expected to be tried soon in the European Court of Human Rights.
The rise in incidents of torture since 2011
The Committee has once again come to the conclusion, that there is constant violation of the basic human rights such as respect for all human life, dignity and health, in a number of jails, detention centres and prisons in Greece. In many cases, usually involving those detained in jails, torture came with a complete reluctance of the authorities to investigate the incidents in order find those guilty of abuse. This has led to a culture that accepts torture as a valid method of policing, since perpetrators never have to face any consequences. The rise of the incidence of torture, since the previous evaluation of the country by the Committee justifies this assumption. According to the report, the greek authorities do not prioritize these incidents and no measures have ever been taken to elimitate this phenomenon. Moreover, it has become obvious that within a number of police departments, systematic abuse is used as a tool for officers to get information and confession from those detained in remand. I would like to summarize some incidents that portray exactly what happens in jails and immigrant detention centres in Greece.
Torture of the body: penis ‘pulling’.
In the police department of Kypseli, in Athens, the police officers led an immigrant to the toilets, removed his cloting and poured cold water onto his naked body. They tied his legs together with rope and started hitting his soles with bats, while his penis was tied with a rope that they kept pulling. He asked to see a lawyer and the answer was no. During this torture his leg was broken but that did not stop the officers. While he was kept there for four days, he was not offered any medical care and was not transeffered to a hospotal. After being imprisoned to Korydallos Penitentiary and after another 9 days went by, he was finally taken to the hospital in Nikaia, were he was hospitalised for a month.
What is characteristic in this particular case and in so many others, is that the authorities have refused the right to legal asistance and healthcare to immigrants. Moreover, all victims who wished to file a lawsuit, were at a later stage advised by their lawyers not to, as this could have had a negative impact to the verdict of their pending criminal case. Since police officers accused of torture usually testify that the violent behaviour of the victims led them to actions of ‘self-defence’, it’s not hard to imagine who is more believable in a court of law.
Tied on a fence
The conditions of detention in police departments reflect what we often read in the press: small dirty places with no access to the sunlight, with dirty mattresses spread around the floor and lack outdoor space for the people to get some fresh air, lack equipment for detainees to wash their clothes and cook a proper meal, which is something many of them have not had in months.
Incidents of abuse have also been reported in immigrant detention centres. In Komotini, a city located in north-eastern Greece, during the interference of special police forces, the immigrants were hit with bats and chains and as a punishemnt they were left outside in the courtyard of the immigrant centre during the night and the entire day, of the next day. In Amygdaleza, an immigrant detention centre in Athens, a number of detainees described the following: cases of self-harm and verbal complaints about the condtitions were always met by officers with physical abuse, including kicking, punching and hitting them with bats.
Furthermore, in order to inflict punishment, officers tied the hands of the immigrants using handcuffs, on the iron fence around the centre and left them there the whole night. After an immigrant who had attempted to suicide completed his medical treatment at a local hospital, he was returned back to the detention centre only to deal with more torture: his hads were tied on the fence for an entire day. The only ‘care provision’ he received was a chair to sit down so he would not have to stand for the entire night and one of his hands was released so he could eat. It was other inmates, who gave him a blanket to cover himself, since the temperature had been very low.
Written by: Aphrodite Babasi