Urgent: rule of law in Greece, with possibly dangerous implications

Prasinoi / Greens
Athens, March 7, 20201

– Ska Keller, co-President of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament
– Philip Lamberts, co-President of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Greens/EFA Group
– Voula Tsetsi, Secretary General of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament


Dear Green friends,

We are urgently contacting you about a prisoner’s hunger strike in Greece, which could likely be the first one to lead to a human loss in a European country, since 1982.

Even more alarming is that the hunger-striker’s demands are just about having the Rule of Law also applied to him, and that the prison authorities as well as the Greek government are still failing to do so.

Dimitris Koufontinas is serving a multiple life sentence mainly for his active role in 11 political assassinations by 17N, an armed organization responsible for 23 assassinations in Greece from 1975 to 2000. In 2002, after most other 17N members were arrested, he peacefully surrendered himself to the Greek Police headquarters to be tried. In their trial, he was the only one to politically defend the group’s actions in his plea. Since then he has cut ties with his co-defendants and has been a mostly law-abiding prisoner for almost 20 years.

His current hunger strike is about protesting a breach of Greek law. Greek Act 4760/1920 recently adopted by the current Greek conservative government, excludes prisoners convicted for terrorism from serving in rural prisons and provides for them to be transferred back to their respective previous prisons. As Koufontinas was returned to a different prison than his previous one near Athens when his family lives, he filed a formal request to be transferred as foreseen by the law, but his request was left unanswered. His lawyer sought to file a legal complaint, but she is still unable to do so as she seems to be denied access to the prison document ordering his transfer. As a result, he has started a protest hunger strike since early January.

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The Greek Ombudsman Authority[1] and the Greek National Committee for Human Rights[2] have both issued recommendations in favor of his legal request for the documents. Amnesty International Greece has also publicly supported his requests and asked the Greek authorities to fulfill their duty to protect his right to life[3]. Dora Bakoyanni, a prominent conservative politician (and a former Greek Foreign Affairs minister) with a sensitive personal stake, as Koufontinas himself had been the gunman in her husband’s assassination back in 1989, has also stated that “the Law has to be applied to everyone”.

Nevertheless both the prison authorities and the Greek government are keeping a hard stance in what clearly seems a Rule of Law issue, adopting a rhetoric that the hunger striker is just asking for “preferential treatment” and that “the state cannot allow for an extortion by an unrepentant terrorist”.

It is very likely that this compromising of the Rule of law can be based on political speculation, as the Rule of Law dimension is hardly presented on Greek media. As a former gunman who has never renounced his actions (albeit his statements speak about his struggle now being continued “in different ways”), Koufontinas is widely unpopular among mainstream Greeks: in a recent poll, 60% favored a hard stance and only 15% a compromise solution. On the other hand, he is quite respectable among radical political movements, with several young militants e even identifying with his actions During his hunger strike, there have already been hit-and-run attacks against police and banks, while police have repeatedly attacked peaceful solidarity actions, arresting dozens of activists. Polarisation has been growing between government and opposition parties, even dividing the judiciary itself. A possible deadly outcome of the hunger strike, would most likely spark a serious wave of riots and violence, likely to embarrass the opposition parties and to rally support for the Greek conservative government’s Law and Order agenda. As an early national election is widely expected to be called in the next months, this could help strengthen the conservatives’ grip on power at the expense of social cohesion in Greece as well as of the Rule of Law in an EU member country.

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The final decision whether this hard stance choice will be followed to the end or not, seems to now be at the hands of the Greek PM. Possible EU repercussions will certainly be among the ones to be seriously considered.

We PRASINOI/Greens are deeply committed to both non-violence and the Rule of Law. We are anxious to help prevent a possible vicious circle of serious violence and crackdown, which could have a lasting toll on the Rule of Law and Democracy in Greece. As Greens we don’t want to see a new generation of young people being tempted to dead-end armed groups and used as an excuse for new rounds of crackdown and for legislation shrinking civil liberties. Our vision, instead, is about renewed waves of non-violent activism for climate, environmental and social justice and change.

In this context we are asking you to urgently contact the Greek PM’s office about Amnesty International’s and other Human Rights Organizations’ concerns, warning him that the Rule of Law is a basic pillar all over EU and no member country is allowed to compromise it. We would also like you to draw their attention to successful experiences in other European countries, where prevalence of the Rule of Law has helped create an environment for de-escalation of violence and promotion of social peace and reconciliation.

With warmest Green greetings

 Alia Papageorgiou, co-spokeperson of PRASINOI/Greens
 Thanasis Gounaris, co-spokeperson of PRASINOI/Greens
 Nikos Chrysogelos, former MEP, Greens/EFA Group
Michalis Tremopoulos, former MEP, Greens/EFA Group

[1] https://www.cnn.gr/media/com_news/attachments/211/parembasi_synigoroy_toy_politi_gia_tin_metagogi_koyfontina.pdf

[2] https://thepressproject.gr/eleda-as-prytanefsei-epitelous-i-logiki-kai-to-kratos-dikaiou/

[3] https://www.cnn.gr/ellada/story/254191/h-diethnis-amnistia-gia-tin-apergia-peinas-toy-dimitri-koyfontina

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