Oral statement to UN CERD: Racist crimes, Roma profiling, religious oath and blasphemy laws in Greece

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Oral statement to UN CERD on Greece’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

 3 August 2016

In 2009, CERD recommended (paragraph 10) that “racially motivated crimes … such as those contained in Law 927/1979 … are effectively prosecuted and punished.” Yet, in over 100 court cases based on Law 927/79, handled or known to GHM, there is only one irrevocable conviction dating from September 2008. Also, there is no irrevocable conviction for racially motivated crimes contained in articles 79.3 or 81A of the Criminal Code: there are just five convictions at first instance pending on appeal.

Moreover, in 2013 a blanket amnesty for crimes including racist speech punished by Article 2 Law 979/79, resulted in the archiving of scores of pending criminal cases for racist crimes, including several referred to court by the special Hellenic Police Offices to Combat Racist Violence. Even worse, Article 2 was altogether abolished in 2014 and racist speech was decriminalized. These amnesty decisions and decriminalizing of hate speech led to the dropping of charges in several pending criminal cases or trials, including against Golden Dawn leaders and Greek Navy Seals (OYK) officers convicted at first instance for marching to racist slogans. Fortunately, after a GHM protest, just last week a new and wider blanket amnesty for crimes did not include incitement to racist violence and discrimination through mid-2014, as was called for in the draft bill.

It is astonishing that in its September 2015 report to CERD Greece misleadingly claimed that “114. As explained in Greece’s previous reports, Law 927/1979 … criminalizes the expression in public, either orally or by the press or by written texts or through depictions or any other means, of offending ideas against any individual or group of individuals.” That was indeed the content of old and abolished article 2 of Law 927/79. This is why, in November 2015, the UN HRCttee expressed its “concern that the new Law 4285/2014 and the provisions introduced in the Penal Code may hinder investigations and prosecutions of racist hate crimes involving public insults and defamation against groups” and recommended to Greece “that all advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred is prohibited by law.”

Greece reports that “two special prosecutors have been appointed in Athens and Piraeus for the investigation of racist crimes:” recently three more such special prosecutors have been appointed in Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion. Yet, these prosecutors have simply been assigned that title and duty in addition to all other duties they have. As GHM knows from several complaints filed with the Athens Prosecutor, these Prosecutors may launch criminal investigations for racist crimes but these will then be assigned to other Prosecutors, let alone that the launching of the investigations may occur several months after the filing of the complaints as these Prosecutors have other duties. The Athens Prosecutor is also the head investigator for the so-called “Hervé Falciani list” or “Lagarde list” and “Borjans list” concerning Swiss bank accounts of thousands of Greek citizens.

Since August 2015, GHM has filed with the Athens Prosecutor for Racist Crimes four complaints for racist crimes. Even with considerable delay and sometimes through other Athens Prosecutors, 34 criminal case briefs were formed or associated for alleged racist crimes by judicial officials, bishops, members of parliament, media, police officers, mayors, extreme right-wingers, organizations and other citizens. It is noteworthy that in all these cases the offenses are prosecuted ex officio but with one exception criminal briefs were formed only after GHM filed the complaints, and not on the Prosecutors’ own initiative.

Laws introduced in Greece as obligations ensuing from international treaties or international court judgments are often rarely or not at all applied, as even judicial officials choose to ignore if not violate them. The aforementioned anti-racism Law 927/79 is one example. In the most well-known even to CERD related case (see 2009 CERD Rapporteur’s Question 6) Costas Plevris, initially convicted for the publication of his book “The Jews – The Whole Truth”, was acquitted on appeal in 2009 and that was upheld on cassation by the Supreme Court (Judgment 3/2010).

 The 2012 amendment as a consequence of several ECtHR judgments (Dimitras et al. v. Greece), abolishing in judicial proceedings the registration of one’s religion and replacing the presumption of every witness’ religion as Orthodox Christian by a question on whether s/he would like to take a religious oath or a secular affirmation, with few exceptions, has not been applied even by Supreme Court Prosecutors!

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, in his 2013 report on Greece, had “urged the authorities to put an end to the practice of ethnic profiling by the police, reportedly widely used concerning Roma and as part of the ‘Xenios Zeus’ police operation under which the legal status of migrants is verified.” While the “Xenios Zeus” operation was discontinued in January 2015, the similar operation profiling Roma has continued. At the same time, police issue hundreds of statements after operations in Roma settlements or arrests of Roma suspects, arbitrarily naming each and every time the Roma ethnic identity, in a deliberate effort to show that there is Roma criminality which is combated by police. The reference to ethnic identity of Greek citizens is in violation of the Greek data protection legislation and the ensuing Hellenic Police circulars. Yet, an Athens Prosecutor archived on 1 June 2016 a related GHM complaint.

Finally, in the appeal of the joint campaign by 3 international and 51 national NGOs “End blasphemy laws in Greece” submitted to your Committee on 4 July 2016, it is recalled that in recent months the Greek government pledged before UN bodies to abolish the blasphemy articles from the Criminal Code, which are still actively used by courts: on 13 July 2016, GHM registered 25 criminal prosecutions and trials since 2014, which included charges based on the blasphemy articles. After the submission of the appeal to your Committee, the socialist or socialist-affiliated opposition parties PASOK – Democractic Alliance and The River publicly agreed with the abolition, that is not expected to be opposed by communist KKE and perhaps even the Centrists’ Union, which means that it may be supported by two thirds of MPs. Yet, the government has refused to table the simple one-sentence amendment to abolish the articles, even in a bill with scores of amendments to the criminal and civil codes debated in Parliament last week. The Ministry of Justice merely announced two weeks ago that the decriminalization of blasphemy has been referred to the Legislative Committee for the revision of the Criminal Code and that this will be stated to your Committee today.


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