The governement manipulates the Asylum Appeals Committees

On the 16-6-2016, with a last minute amendment,  the Greek Government changes the composition of the Asylum Appeals Committees, because the existing ones were not sending refugees back to Turkey, were not considering turkey a safe third country for each applican as the implementation of  the EU-Turkey refugee deal imposes. This is a disgraceful intervention and some members the existing Asylum Appeals Committees explain about it.
Statement of members of the Asylum Appeals Committees of Greece
By the present, the undersigned wish to make a statement, as members of the Asylum Appeals Committees of Greece (Presidential Decree 114/2010), regarding the latest developments in the asylum claims review process.

An  Asylum Appeals Committee is a three-member quasi-judicial body, consisting of a Civil Servant as Chairman, a member indicated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and a member selected by the Ministry of Interior from a list drawn up by the National Commission on Human Rights (E.E.D.A.), an independent advisory body to the state. Their mandate is to examine on second administrative (and final) instance appeals on asylum applications submitted by June 6, 2013 and rejected at the first instance by the hitherto indicated Ministry of Public Order (Greek Police officials). Since January 2011, when the Committees started to function, to this date, only a minimal number of their decisions have been challenged before the Administrative Appeals Court (as provided by national legislation). Shortly after the joint EU-Turkey statement, the Committees were temporarily entrusted to examine appeals of asylum seekers who had entered the country from March 20, 2016 onwards - the date of application of the, legally non-binding, Joint Turkey - EU Statement. These asylum requests were deemed inadmissible at first instance examination, based on recommendations of the European Support Office (EASO) representatives who conducted interviews in English.  Law 4375/2016 appointed the Committees as the competent body to examine appeals on the inadmissibility decisions until the establishment of a Standing Appeals Authority.

After assuming their additional responsibilities the Committees responded with speed and professionalism to the requirements of this new procedure, in compliance with the extremely abridged deadlines stipulated by new law. During two meetings of the Committees held by consultants of the Migration Policy Minister (the first) and with the participation of Mr. Mouzalas (the Migration Policy Minister) himself (the second), a number of legal issues were raised, concerning unlawful, in the opinion of some members, aspects of the process in the first instance, but also a series of questions about the proceedings before the Committees. Besides procedural issues, which are anything but secondary to legal issues on substance, the most critical issue was the individual judgment for each applicant as to whether Turkey may be considered a safe third country. In this matter also lies the crucial contradiction between the wording of the Joint Declaration that "all will be returned to Turkey" and the asylum system and the safeguards provided for each applicant himself. In this respect, it was pointed out emphatically by both the consultants and by Mr. Mouzalas himself that being an independent second instance decision making body, the Committees’ independence would be undisputable and their decisions would in no way be influenced directly or indirectly, adding however the  political intentions of the government to rigorously comply with the Joint Statement. In spite of those assurance, the Ministry communicated to the Committees a letter by the European Commission which acknowledged briefly and without legal reasoning, Turkey as being a safe third country, in contrast to most international organizations reports (which were never communicated to the Committees), placing in question the political leadership’s  declarations to not interfere with the independence of the Committees.

Roughly two months following the publication of Law 4375/2016 and by virtue of an amendment voted by the Parliamentary majority of the government on 16.06.2016, the Committees ceased to be responsible for these actions, the examination of which was assigned to new "Independent Appeals Committees", each of which will consist of two magistrates (members of the Greek judiciary) and one member indicated by the UNHCR, or in case of the latter’s  inability to indicate a member on time, by the  E.E.D.A. In fact, as explicitly stated in the amendment “the upcoming modification will enhance the judicial character of the Committees and maximize the proper legal protection of the applicants, as their requests will be judged by the new committees with increased impartiality and independence."

What elapsed, then, and suddenly it was considered that the examination of asylum appeals should be passed to “other hands”, suggesting that PD 114/2010 Committees had reduced impartiality and independence? What intervened was a fully substantiated legal reasoning had been cited in dozens of judgments by the PD 114/2010 Committees, after careful consideration of individual appeals, something that was not in line with the objective of mass returns of asylum applicants to Turkey, as expressed in the non-legally binding Turkey - EU Statement. These decisions of the Committees had not been reached because their members acted according to a certain "ideology" as written in the press, or because members of the Committees were not sufficiently "neutral", since they emanated from a "civil society" (let us recall here that the final selection of members from the E.E.D.A. list is made by the responsible Minister and the UNHCR is an international organization which recommends members specialized examinations). The Committees and their members, having examined thousands of cases since 2011, based their judgment on this occasion, as always before, on published reports of international bodies and organizations such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, UNHCR, ECRE, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others, which are taken into account also in the ratio of judgments of European courts such as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice.

It becomes then apparent from the urgency and the invoked (defamatory) grounds of the amendment that the Ministry preferred to wrest the responsibility which two months ago had chosen to confer on the Committees, because the Committees’ decisions were not harmonized with the framework of the Joint EU-Turkey Statement. This constitutes an affront and insult to our professional status as legal and social scientists, specialized academically and professionally in the field of asylum and human rights. Indeed, since the publication of the very first decisions by the Committees, indicative is the statement of the Migration Policy Minister in the international press, that these decisions contravene all UNHCR guidelines for refugees (The Guardian, 20/05/2016). If this is the view of the Ministry, it is really surprising that it has not brought a request to quash the Committees’ decisions before the Administrative Appeals Court, as expressly provided by the law. Changing the composition of the Committees through expedited legislation, rather than judicial examination and resolution of serious legal issues of international law (something which would be binding upon any future committees, regardless of their composition) confirms that this move was not made because the grounds of the Committees’ decisions were incomplete or unjustified, but because these decisions placed in question the political plans of the Ministry-government.

Managing legal issues by use of political priorities raises many questions about the future of the asylum system in Greece, the protection of human rights and the rule of law. For us, it is apparent that the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement is incompatible with the guarantees of the existing asylum system and the level of protection of human rights which has been achieved within the international and European legal framework. Unfortunately, the Ministry’s orchestrations indicate that whenever any decision making body, old or new, is not in line with the objective of mass returns to Turkey, such law amendments and wresting of authorities and responsibility will not be in the future the exception but rather the rule.
This document reflects the views of the following members of the PD 114/2010 Committees:
Adamou Efthymia, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Deli Irene, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Giannopoulou Chrisa, member indicated by the UNHCR
Gousis Constantine, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Krinidi Constantina, member indicated by the UNHCR
Komplas Nikolaos, member indicated by the UNHCR
Papageorgiou Anastasia -Asimina, member indicated by the UNHCR
Papadaki Maria, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Patri Maria, member indicated by the UNHCR
Pragkasti Zoe-Eleni, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Proestaki Zafirenia, member indicated by the UNHCR
Ressopoulou Erato, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Svana Christina, member indicated by the UNHCR
Skandalis Orestes, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Stentoumi Joanna member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Tsakiropoulou Evangelia, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Tsouka Erato, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.

How the E.U.-Turkey Deal Came to Be

Apostolis Fotiadis

German chancellor Angela Merkel has trumpeted the agreement to return Syrian refugees to Turkey from Greece as a "European solution." But with no real accord across the 28 member states, terms and conditions that will be difficult to put into practice and continuing arrivals to Greece, is it truly a breakthrough?

Turkey and the European Union last Friday announced a plan under which Syrian refugees and migrants arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey. Turkey seems to have agreed to the terms and conditions, despite not all its demands having been met.

The deal also aims to address the dire conditions of Greece's asylum infrastructure. Greece is simply not equipped to cope with the current scales of arrivals, nor is it in a position to process large numbers of asylum requests and conduct mass returns.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel faces a difficult battle over the coming months to keep the deal alive, let alone to develop and implement it. But, deal or no deal, European leaders understand her intentions.

The E.U.-Turkey deal was initially spelled out last October, when it was known as "The Merkel Plan." This was during the same period in which E.U. commissioner Jean-Claude Junker brought up the idea of Greek-Turkish joint patrols on the Aegean Sea to implement the scheme. Greece rejected the idea, instead calling for a bilateral "migrant readmission plan" with Turkey.

When that version of the plan did not pan out, Merkel simply repackaged the underlying ideas. During the last few months of 2015 she put enormous pressure on Brussels and managed to bring Turkey to the negotiating table as a privileged interlocutor. At the time, Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked for multiple concessions in exchange for mitigating the flow of asylum seekers into the E.U.
These included visa liberalization plans for Turkish citizens, the resumption of E.U.-Turkish accession negotiations and the earmarking of 3 billion euros ($3.4bn) for refugee aid and services.

Despite establishing the E.U.-Turkey negotiations on a council level, last December’s talks led to little progress. The flow of asylum seekers remained very high over the winter and E.U. states were distracted by diplomatic tensions over an impending closure of the Western Balkan route. Turkey, meanwhile, did not express any urgency in wrapping up the deal. It was simply biding its time so it could up the ante. The
plan was reintroduced at the beginning of this year. But this time it was sold as the brainchild of Dutch Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte smoothly transformed the proposal into an E.U. Presidency plan. Since then it has often been cited as The Samsom-Merkel Plan.

Samsom’s proposal involved the imminent blanket return of all arrivals on Greek soil to be transported back to Turkey in exchange for a package trade-off: a comprehensive resettlement of more than 150,000 registered Syrian refugees from Turkish camps. He hoped for a coalition of the willing – comprising Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria – to implement the resettlement process and absorb the population.

Alas this coalition of the willing quickly vanished when, a couple of weeks later, Austria broke away, aligning itself with the Visegrad Four (an alliance of four central European states - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and the Western Balkan side that unilaterally closed down the Western Balkan route to incoming asylum seekers, acting outside of E.U. institutional proceedings.

The "ringfencing" of Greece and blanket returns across the Aegean Sea are not necessarily conflicting ideas for European states that want to reduce the flow of refugees to a trickle. On the contrary, they serve as a complementary double "line of defence," as imagined by the rising nationalist stars, Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who have both called for the containment of refugees within Greece. Merkel denounced the leaders; then she focused on her own strategy.

On March 6, it was Merkel's turn to play the game outside of the bounds of E.U. institutions. She, Davutoglu and Mark Rutte held an impromptu closed-door meeting at the Turkish embassy in Brussels the night before the planned E.U.-Turkey migration summit on March 7. They practically rewrote, at will, the resolutions that would be presented the next morning. They force fed the new version to the E.U. Council, while casually describing it as "some additional ideas by Davutoglu."

And this is how the current version of the E.U.-Turkey deal came to be. The new element is that blanket returns will be based on an one-for-one model, meaning that for every person sent back from Greece to Turkey, one will fly from Turkey to the E.U. to be resettled. Returnees will be relegated to the end of the resettlement queue, in the hope that this will act as a deterrent for those contemplating similar
irregular crossings.

In the lead-up to last week's summit, various parties in Berlin and Brussels have generated inordinate pressure to push through the deal, while Merkel went public on an almost daily basis to promote a so-called "European solution" as the only decent alternative to central European unilateralism.

However, Cyprus arrived at the summit for the final round of talks having announced that it has no intention of permitting full negotiations for Turkey's E.U. membership. The draft text of the summit's resolutions does not mention any specifics on the issue, and many E.U. countries, including France, do not fully agree with the visa
liberalization part of the plan. There have only been vague references for an additional 3 billion euros of aid money, on top of the 3 billion already on the table, on conditional basis and only until 2018.

It is absurd to call such a deal "European" when it is clearly being forced upon so many E.U. partners without their direct involvement in the pre-summit discussions.

The E.U. is yet to come up with a concerted plan to resettle the proposed number of 18,000 people, with a possible addition of 54,000 to this number. So far, participation appears to be on a voluntary basis and is not based on proportional sharing of the burden across its 28 member states.

Observers and advocacy organizations working on the refugee crisis – among them major figures like the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have attacked the legality of the proposed blanket returns. They have unanimously contested that the deal is a gross violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and various EU treaties and laws. Spain and Sweden have also expressed similar concerns.

The first day the plan was activated, more than 800 people crossed the Aegean, successfully reaching Greek shores. Given that the mechanisms for examining their refugee status and possibly returning them is not yet in place, they – like tens of thousands of others – will be restricted to the islands, until the process practically kicks off.

Without enough preparation time and mounting pressure to implement the deal, the situation on the European side might worsen. Legal, administrative and logistical challenges are inevitable with any new plan. But, failure to implement the one-in-one-out deal could quickly devolve into flagrant legal violations of the protections that should be afforded to all asylum seekers, including those being returned to Turkey. Before E.U. leaders rejoice at sealing the E.U.-Turkey deal, they might want to understand if they have walked into a trap.

Apostolis Fotiadis is a freelance journalist. He has reported on politics since 2005 with an emphasis on European immigration policy and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. In early 2015, he published his book “Border Merchants” (ed. Potamos) which focused on how the European Union and especially European technocrats and the Commission interpret official immigration policy as a security concern with rapid militarisation of external borders.

First published in English on, 21.3.2016


No more refugees, just “irregulars”...

The deal of shame between E.U.-Turkey

 Stratis Bournazos

Below are some comments in immediate reaction to the agreement as announced on the afternoon of 18th March. We at AnalyzeGreece! consider this agreement to be of particular importance and gravity, which is why we sought to formulate an immediate reaction to it.

1. The agreement reiterates and fully confirms the main points from the statement made by EU leaders on 7th March (except for the added extensive references to international treaties and individual asylum claiming processes – obviously to calm the backlash the absence of these created), a statement strongly criticised by all humanitarian organisations, which claimed that it undermines international law. As regards today's agreement, I will refer to the first, immediate response by Amnesty International: “horrendous deal had been sealed shame on EU”, according to Iverna McGowan (head of Amnesty International al’s EU office), “a cyanide pill” to refugee rights”, according to John Dalhuisen (Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia”, while the press release is entitled “A historic blow to human rights”. Moreover, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), calls it “the deal of shame”: “European leaders have decided to barter migrants’ and asylum seekers’ dignity and rights for selfish short-term political gain. Such cynicism is despicable”.

2. The main aim, axis and core of the agreement is the stopping of flows from Turkey to Greece and Europe, not the tackling of the refugee crisis, much less the provision of international protection to those who have a right to it, and the protection of refugees. As such, the word “refugee” is only very rarely used in the text; instead, reference is made to migrants and “irregular migrants”. If, however, according to UNHCR data (as cited in a comment by Marilena Katsimi of Facebook), of those crossing the Greek border 91% are refugees (45% Syrian, 28% Afghan, 18% Iraqi - of whom 36% are children and 21% are women), this clearly means the stemming of refugee flows. In other words, the de facto abolition of international treaties, above all the Geneva Conventions, which require the provision of international protection to those in need: if all those wishing to come to Europe (the vast majority of which are refugees), are to be stopped, then they have no access to international protection.

3. For the reasons above, the three “filters for the reduction in flows”, to which Alexis Tsipras referred during the press conference, are all too eloquent. First, the war against traffickers, second, the presence of NATO ships, third, those who manage to pass through these two filters and who reach Greece will in essence be excluded from relocation (as they will be placed at the bottom of the list). In the words of the Prime Minister: “The first filter –and this is an obligation taken on by Turkey– is the dismantling of the network of traffickers operating on Turkish shores. The second filter is the operation of NATO.Turkey has now committed to withdraw the objections it has been posing until now, so that NATO operations can be carried out efficiently and effectively. The third filter was decided upon today. When neither the first nor the second filter are effective, we provide refugees and migrants with a strong disincentive to make use of trafficking networks so that they may reach the Greek islands: those who do come will not have priority in the relocation process and, if they are irregular migrants, they will be swiftly returned. If they are migrants in need of international protection, their claim will be examined on an individual basis [...]. We believe that the message of today's decision, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, is the activation of these three filters, so that we may have an immediate result the reduction of flows from Turkish shores to the Greek islands”. I think the filters speak for themselves, but I will make three comments, one for each filter.

Comment #1: when no legal and safe passage is available, no safe route, everyone, including refugees, makes use of trafficking networks. Therefore, if one takes the decision to “end irregular migration”, as stated in the agreement, then, in the absence of a legal route, one also puts an end to the possibility of refugees coming to Europe (or, more correctly, one makes the journey more expensive and dangerous, as new routes and illegal networks will without doubt be created). Comment #2: NATO ships will, in other words, act as a mobile sea fence throughout the Aegean, which will prevent refugees from reaching the coast. Comment #3: “they will not have priority”. That is, they will be punished, thereby having their right to relocation forfeited.

4. “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”, reads the text of the agreement. A key question here is: Who is considered an “irregular migrant”? What will happen to, for example Afghans and Iraqis? I don't think there is any room for optimism: based on the overall spirit of the agreement - everyone will be considered to be irregular, except, perhaps, Syrians. And I say perhaps because there is no certainty even for Syrians. The agreement states that “for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU” – wording which reveals that Syrians will be returned, too.

5. Yet how will Syrians, who are prima facie considered refugees, be returned to Turkey, especially in light of the fact that the agreement makes explicit reference to respect for international law. The key term here is “safe third country”, which is used in the text. If Turkey is declared a “safe third country”, then Syrians can be returned legally. Of course, declaring Turkey to be a “safe third country” is both arbitrary and provocative, as Turkey has closed its borders with Syria, international organisations condemn it for refugee arrests and abuse, as well as expulsions and push backs to Syria and Iraq, there is no system for claiming asylum in place (except for European citizens, and temporary protection for Syrians), and it is not safe even for its own citizens: at the moment in which the agreement is signed, authoritarianism by the Davutoglu government is in its zenith, with pogroms against Kurds, mass arrests and the persecution of academics and journalists. By the way, the added status granted to Erdogan and Davutoglu through the agreement, precisely at this moment, is scandalous.

6. The resettlement programmes, unfortunately, look like a joke. Out of a total of 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey (a number which goes up to 3 million if we take account of the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis), only 72,000 will be resettled – an infuriatingly small number, which confirms once more that the agreement bears no relation to any attempt to solve the refugee crisis.

7. Finally, as regards the references being made in the agreement to respect for international law, the processing of individual asylum claims, etc. Very briefly, and running the risk of being un-nuanced, I will say that not all of the eggs can be put in one basket. If the main aim is to curb refugee flows, this cannot take place whilst respecting international law. I will once more cite John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International (by the way, the fact that in the last few days we keep referring to texts by NGOs and humanitarian organisations, not by left wing political parties, is telling – but that is a different story): “Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”
We will continue our coverage of this very important issue over the next few weeks. Concluding this commentary, I would like to say that the agreement is not a diplomatic success, as Alexiis Tsipras stated, but a significant defeat and embarrassment. Starting today, we must, both in Greece and in Europe, organise our resistance to the agreement. #StopTheDeal, #Refugees Welcome!

PS. Two pieces of good news, coming from Spain, on a Saturday, no less: at  Madrid city hall, the EU flag is at half mast in protest, while in Barcelona a large rally took place against the agreement (rallies had also taken place in previous days, while the Spanish Parliament had rejected the “preliminary” agreement of 7th March).

Stratis Bournazos is a journalist and historian, member of the editorial board of AnalyzeGreece! and Enthemata Avgis.\

Translated by Despina Biri

First published  in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi", 20.3.2016.


​​EU-Turkey non-deal: snap analysis

Paul Mason

The EU Summit on 7 March failed to reach agreement with Turkey but the outline of the deal to be done on 17–18 March is clear. Here’s the bullet points from the Heads of State statement, together with my commentary. These are enumerated as “principles”.Your head of state has signed up to them:

* “To return all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU;”
… Not legal. If these “irregular migrants” claim asylum they are a refugee and protected from return under international law until their claim has been processed. It will be challenged in the courts immediately.

* “To resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the EU Member States, within the framework of the existing commitments;”
…This presumably starts on implementation, and is not retrospective. It leaves around 30,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, which is manageable. But it replaces law with arbitrary power. Who decides which refugees in Turkey get to come to Europe? Why not simply put the ones who want to leave Turkey for Europe on a bus or flight to Berlin, avoiding the peril of crossing to Lesbos, being sent back and then — presumably — joining an arbitrarily organised queue of people in Turkey?
The whole thing would be better organised through the #safepassage demanded by NGOs and will redouble calls for that.

* “To accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016;”
…Not possible. One state can block it. Will David Cameron sign-off visa free travel for 75 million Turkish citizens to Britain 23 days before the Brexit referendum. Will Poland sign up? Will Cyprus? Dream on.
[Its been pointed out since I wrote this that the visa free agreement is with Schengen only. But the agreement says “all member states” do I think my point is valid.]

* “To speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated 3 billion euros to ensure funding of a first set of projects before the end of March and decide on additional funding for the Refugee Facility for Syrians”
…Remarkably, Erdogan has demanded exactly what he is shown demanding in the leaked Tusk-Erdogan notes, which I have doubted the veracity of. Nevertheless, €6bn would be cheap for Europe if it stemmed voluntarily the desire of people to leave camps in Turkey and come to Europe.

* “To prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible, building on the October 2015 European Council conclusions”
…This is one of the most shameful commitments the EU has ever given. We should state, now, there is no possibility of Turkey joining the EU under the AK Party. In the leaked documents that’s what Erdogan says: put us out of our misery. Europe should, as I suggest in the Guardian, signal to the secular, democratic forces in Turkey that it will re-start accession talks only when there has been a stable democracy for, say, five years, with full commitments to human rights, press freedom etc honoured. We should have no truck with the Christian right who say Turkey cannot enter because it is muslim, or because it will flood Europe with cheap labour: the issue is democracy. Turkey cannot begin accession talks because it does not meet the Copenhagen criteria for membership, and is moving in the opposite direction. I think there will be outrage way beyond the Christian right in Europe over this, if it happens.

* “To work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe”
…Is this a commitment to create a safe haven? Militarily? Via the Turkish military, which has been covertly supplying IS, and bombing the Kurds? If not, the onus on EU leaders is to say so sharpish because there is no consent in Europe for the creation of safe havens, welcome though they would be.
And that’s it. Nothing on human rights in the entire document; nothing about stop bombing the Kurds; nothing about stop jailing newspaper editors; no incentive to cease burning down the local offices of opposition parties.

The best that can be said is that the negotiations failed and that these are some kind of holding position to stop Erdogan pulling the trigger on another million refugees into the islands.

These bullet points, reflecting Turkey’s demands completely, will never be implemented because the EU leaders represent democracies, where international law applies and where entry into commitments — on visas, EU accession etc — is the subject of parliamentary debate. Get real.

Paul Mason is  a journalist,  writer and  Broadcaster. Author of "Postcapitalism — A Guide to Our Future", producer of "#ThisIsACoup documentary".

First published on

Panos Lambrou: A tireless defender of prisoners' rights in the crosshairs

by Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
Prisoners crammed in cells designed for half their numbers, the poorest hygiene imaginable, hellholes for hospitals, violence against (and among) prisoners: this has for years been the reality in Greek prisons. And in this explosive mix, the ND-Pasok government added a bill introducing the so-called “Type C” Prisons that clearly aimed at the exhaustion of the prisoners considered “dangerous“, and that is why it was denounced by jurists, constitutional lawyers and human rights organizations as being inhuman and anti-constitutional. All these years, the only way for the prisoners to make themselves heard to the rest of society was offered by the Initiative for the Rights of Prisoners –an umbrella organization created after the horrible death of four prisoners when their cell mysteriously (?) caught fire. The heart and soul of the initiative, tirelessly raising the questions of prison depopulation and of the abolition of juvenile incarceration and “Type C” Prisons, is none other than Panos Lambrou.
As a member of Syriza's Political Secretariat, a prisoners' rights activist since the 1980's and a journalist for the eurocommunist weekly newspaper “Epohi”, Lambrou has never enjoyed the publicity he got during the last few days, even though he deserved it more than most. And how did he finally get it? The Minister of Citizen Protection (formerly called Minister for Public Order) of the first Syriza-ANEL government, criminologist Yiannis Panousis, made sure of it. Last Sunday he spoke to “Proto Thema”, the Sunday paper with the biggest circulation that is both hostile to the Left and friendly to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, denouncing “politicians related to terrorists who have threatened his life”. The next day, daily “Ta Nea”, of the Lambrakis Press Group, wrote that Panousis clearly hinted that two Syriza MPs and a member of Syriza's Political Secretariat had “direct relations with prisoners-members of terrorist groups. And later that night, television channel “Mega” also connected to the same news organization, disclosing dialogues supposedly between Lambrou and a member of the armed anarchist organization “Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei”.
The dialogues in question, probably a product of telephone tapping by the state's secret services that were watching Lambrou, come from the period when he was working as an unpaid advisor to the Ministry of Justice and imprisoned members of the “Nuclei” went on a rather long and dangerous hunger strike, asking the government to abolish “Type C” Prisons and anti-terrorist laws and to free Savvas Xiros, imprisoned member of the armed far-left organization “November 17”, who is today 98% disabled. Lambrou's political background, as well as his activities, were of course known to former Minister Panousis, as they were to the whole Cabinet. What's more, “negotiations” between prisoners and the Ministry of Justice, especially in times of crisis like those, were kind of a tradition –even under more conservative governments. These are the reasons why the current government offered its political backing to Lambrou. The government spokeswoman herself accused Panousis of passing classified state evidence to the media as a private person, instead of taking them to Justice when he was a Minister, when his life was supposedly threatened.
So why all this? Why would a former Minister, the opposition parties and the biggest media revive the ghost of terrorism in a country where far-left/anarchist “armed struggle” has been in decline for many years? And why would they point the finger at a man like Lambrou?
For the former Minister, maybe it was the frustration for not being included in the new Cabinet, along with his addiction to publicity: this was the man who, with the tolerance of PM Tsipras and despite being a member of a left government, kept on provoking his colleagues, Syriza and its youth, with successive articles and interviews in media supporting the opposition. As for “Mega” and “Ta Nea”, one might assume that publisher Stavros Psicharis would want to pressure the government, because on 14 December he is going to testify to the Financial Prosecutor for the loans given to the Lambrakis Press Group by three banks. Others prefer to explain the situation based on the expressed will of both the creditors and domestic circles to form a “national unity” government in Greece. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Panos Lambrou is one of the Syriza executives who have every reason to disagree with the turn taken by the party towards social liberalism – a turn that will sooner or later be imposed by even harder oppression apparatuses and even more hysterical media. So, what Lambrou's discrediting as an “extremist” really means is pressure on the government to become even more compliant than it already is –and an easier life for those who think left radicalism is a serious obstacle that must be overcome. Following Lambrou, who stayed with Syriza after the summer breakup, the pressure will probably build and will affect others as well.
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