Prosecution of racist crimes in Greece 2015-2019

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Prosecution of racist crimes in Greece 2015-2019:
Excerpt from a communication to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers

19 October 2019

  1. New legislation for hate crimes

In 2014, Greece amended its anti-racism law 927/79 and contrary to its claims it decriminalized hate speech. This is an excerpt from GHM et al. submission to UN CERD in July 2016.

 Submission to UN CERD in 2016 on decriminalization of hate speech in 2014

It is astonishing that in its September 2015 report to CERD Greece misleadingly claims 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 the content of old article 2 of Antiracism Law 927/79 penalizing hate speech against persons by virtue of their racial or ethnic origin or their religious affiliations. Such acts were prosecuted ex officio without the victims having to file a complaint. Victims could be any members of the ethnic or religious group offended. However, that Article was abolished with Law 4285/10-9-2014, a whole year before the report to CERD was submitted!

Moreover, during Greece’s review by the Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) in October 2015, the Greek delegation stated that victims of hate speech can alternatively now use the usual articles on libel and defamation with the addition of the new Article 81A of the Criminal Code on racist crimes. However, the crimes of libel and defamation cannot be prosecuted ex officio but victims have to file complaints which such vulnerable persons would rarely do, let alone that they have to pay court fees (of 150 euros) and engage lawyers. Only for complaints based on anti-racism Law 927/79 is there an exemption from such court fees, while free legal aid is available only for very poor persons.

Secondly, the articles on defamation and libel invoked punish such crimes if they are committed against individuals and not against groups of individuals, as there are no articles in the criminal code on group defamation or group libel. That means for example that if one insults another person who is a Rom saying “you dirty Gypo” the latter can file a complaint based on those articles. If however the offender said “I do not like all those dirty Gypos” there is no longer a crime to prosecute.

It should be taken into consideration that through 2015 there has been only one conviction under Law 927/79 that was upheld on appeal. It was based on old article 2 and the incriminating text was “Thank God, not even 1,500 Jews are left in Thessaloniki…” Such a text would not have reached even the indictment today as there is no individual libel or defamation in it. That case like 60+ other cases based on 927/79 had been taken to justice and litigated by Greek Helsinki Monitor.

Finally, it was unfortunate that the State claimed during its review by HRCttee that ECRI had welcomed the amended Law 927/29. Here is the crucial paragraph 4 of ECRI’s report published in January 2015:  “Article 1.1 of Law 927/1979 criminalises the intentional public incitement to acts or activities that may result in discrimination, hatred or violence against individuals or groups based on their racial, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. The creation or leadership of or participation in a group that promotes racism is banned by Article 1.4 of the law. While the law covers the recommendation contained in § 18 c of ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation (GPR) No. 7 on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination, which relates to racist threats, it does not address those in §§ 18 b, referring to insults and defamation, or 18 f, concerning the public dissemination, public distribution or production or storage of racist material[emphasis added].

The above information was included in a GHM/MRG-G/HUG/SOKADRE submission to HRCttee during Greece’s review on 19 October 2015, to counter Greece’s misleading claims. The attached ensuing related HRCttee concluding observation and recommendation shared the concerns of GHM/MRG-G/HUG/SOKADRE: CERD is requested to make a similar recommendation to Greece for the reintroduction of the prohibition and prosecution of of hate speech, also in line with CERD’s own 2009 recommendations.

[HRCttee on] Racism and xenophobia

13. While acknowledging efforts made by the State party to combat hate crimes, the Committee is concerned 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. The Committee is also concerned about continued reports of racist attacks and hate speech against migrants, refugees and Roma. The Committee notes with concern that cases of racism are underreported allegedly due to lack of trust in the authorities and the absence of an effective complaints mechanism. The Committee regrets that sanctions imposed are insufficient to discourage and prevent discrimination (arts. 2, 19, 20 and 26).

14. The State party should review its legislation with a view to ensuring that all advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred is prohibited by law, and that all cases of racially motivated violence are systematically investigated, that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished, and that appropriate compensation is awarded to the victims. The State party should take effective measures to improve the reporting of hate crimes. Furthermore, the State party should strengthen its efforts to eradicate stereotypes and discrimination against migrants, refugees and Roma, inter alia, by conducting public awareness campaigns to promote tolerance and respect for diversity.

 Related concluding observations of UN CERD

On the basis of the material submitted by GHM et al UN CERD made the following observations:

Anti-racism legal framework

  1. While noting with appreciation the positive aspects incorporated in the new anti-racism law No. 4285/2014, the Committee remains concerned that the new law is not fully compliant with the requirements of article 4 of the Convention, particularly as it does not criminalize the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority and does not provide for a procedure to declare illegal and prohibit racist organizations. The Committee is also concerned at the persistence in the State party of the political party Golden Dawn, to which the delegation referred in its opening statement as the most prominent racist organization, inspired directly by neo-Nazi ideas (art. 4).
  2. Recalling its general recommendations No. 7 (1985) and No. 15 (1993) relating to the implementation of article 4 of the Convention, the Committee recommends that the State party bring its anti-racism legal framework in full compliance with the requirements of article 4 of the Convention, and ensure its strict application. The State party should, inter alia, declare illegal and prohibit organizations that promote and incite racial discrimination, such as Golden Dawn, as previously recommended by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

Implementation of anti-discrimination provisions

  1. The Committee welcomes the information provided on the increased application of the anti-racist legislation in the State party by law enforcement authorities and in courts. It, however, remains concerned at the still low invocation and application of anti-racism legal provisions and the low rate of convictions in courts (art. 2).
  2. The Committee recommends that the State party intensify its measures to strengthen the application of anti-racism provisions. To that end, the State party should:

(a) Increase the human, financial and technical resources allocated to law enforcement authorities entrusted with investigating hate and racial crimes, namely, the special prosecutors and special police units, and ensure these bodies’ outreach throughout the country;

(b) Undertake awareness-raising measures, including regular mandatory pre-service and in-service training, especially among the police, prosecutors, judiciary and lawyers, on the legal framework governing anti-discrimination and on the investigation of complaints of hate crimes.

Greece should therefore amend the related legislation along the lines recommended by the three highest expert bodies in the Council of Europe and the UN. As for “the still low invocation and application of anti-racism legal provisions and the low rate of convictions in courts” it is confirmed by the data Greece provided to CM-DH and even more the data GHM has available: both are analysed below.

  1. Data on prosecution of hate crimes

In its October 2019 Action report concerning the Sakir group of cases Greece provides data on complaints and prosecution of hate crimes that confirm UN CERD’s concern on “the still low invocation and application of anti-racism legal provisions and the low rate of convictions in courts.” In that data, Greece reports 2015-2017 368 complaints for alleged racist crimes, 127 criminal prosecutions, 19 convictions and 4 acquittals. It also reports an additional 421 complaints for 2018-2019 but fails to give any information on what happened to them. It also claims that in mid-2019 there were 220 court briefs with the ΡΒ (racist violence) signalization.

prosecution of hate crimes in greece 19-10-2019 table

GHM is the plaintiff in the vast majority of those cases, hence responsible for the “explosion” in the figures since 2017 and will provide an analysis here. The table above has police data for the whole country reported by Greece, and the “PB” court briefs with the Athens Prosecutor for Racist Crimes and then how many of them concern complaints filed by GHM. Obviously, there are scores of additional court briefs with Prosecutors outside Athens. Most result from GHM complaints first submitted to the Athens Prosecutor for Racist Crimes or to the specialized Attica Police Security Department for Combatting Racist Crimes, who transfer them to the Prosecutors outside Athens because they concerns acts in their areas. In the period from 2015 through mid-October 2019, GHM has filed complaints for 586 alleged racist crimes (482 in the table below with Athens Prosecutor for Racist Crimes “PB” signalization, and an additional 104 with different signalization in Athens or, mostly outside Athens). The vast majority of these complaints are still at the hands of prosecutors; some led to archiving and a few to referrals to trials. GHM is collecting a large number of related decisions to be able to document these trends.

We provide here indicative information on decisions to archive GHM complaints on alleged racist behavior issued by Greece’s supposedly most important anti-racism prosecutor accessed this week:

  • A 2018 article on criminality in Greece by a then Appeals Court Prosecutor and now Deputy Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation where he stated inter alia that “illegal immigrants and refugees constitute a population group with a high rate of serious criminality … Greece, with the armies of hordes of destitute aliens, tends to become not only a dump of human souls, but, worst of all, a dangerous arena of multifaceted and upgraded crime.” With Decision 2907/5-9-2019 the Athens Prosecutor for Racist Crimes (who is also the National Point of Contact of OSCE/ODIHR on Racist Crimes for Greece and has recently been promotes to Deputy Appeals Court Prosecutor) archived the GHM complaint as not racist arguing that the article is an analysis of the weaknesses of the criminal system in Greece, adding that the entry to Greece without proper procedures of the tens of thousands of foreigners is a crime of the competence of the first instance courts, even though not one prosecutor in such courts ever pressed such charged.
  • A 2018 post by a leader of a marginal “liberal” party claiming that “being a Muslim is a penal crime.” With Decision 2615/5-8-2019, the same prosecutor archived the GHM complaint as not racist but arguing that the post was a critical review of the principles of “Mahometanism” (term not used by the Muslims or the state in Greece…), with references to dogmas of that religion making its followers act in ways that constitute penal crimes like threat and constitution of criminal organization…
  • A 2018 speech by the Mayor of Asprpoyrgos, a Greater Athens suburb with a significant Roma population, who spoke of “the uncontrolled group of Roma that has been active in the region for several years cannot come to their senses… the daily behavior of this particular group, characterized by others as vulnerable, but whose racism against us we endure, while we are called racists, has continued to operate in our region for over 20 years.” With Decision 169/19-8-2019, the same prosecutor archived the GHM complaint as not racist arguing that the Mayor did not refer to the Roma as a whole but to those Roma who engage in criminal activity and in fact repeatedly over the years, a claim that GHM states is at least unfounded recalling that Greece has been convicted twice for anti-Roma behavior (including school segregation) in that particular city led by its then Mayor.

In all three cases, the persons against whom the complaints were submitted were NOT asked to provide explanations as usually happens with complaints: the supposedly specialized prosecutor took upon herself to argue on their behalf so as to archive the complaints.

More generally, Athens Prosecutors for Racist Crimes are prosecutors who are assigned that duty in addition to their other duties for one year and change year after year. During the one-year term of the aforementioned prosecutor (2018-2019), she archived several cases (including the three mentioned above) but did not refer anyone to trial. On the contrary, her predecessor (2017-2018) referred to trial in 2019 and 2020 the following nine cases:

  • An extreme right newspaper for a front page article with the title “Transvestite Parliament – Beat all ‘sissies’ – this abortion of a law [on civil unions] was voted by 148 ‘perverts.’”
  • A former Foreign Minister who said in a television interview that “The only good Turk is a dead Turk. I believe it because I haven’t found a good Turk. They lack elementary knowledge. The Turk does not have a sense of the law.”
  • An at the time member of the Political Committee of New Democracy who wrote in a post that “being gay, bi, and trans is a perversion and unnatural.”
  • The leader of a marginal left party who wrote a conspiracy theory article stating inter alia that “[arriving] illegal immigrants are suspects for terrorist acts” calling for a “general rebellion.”
  • An extreme right blog which published a hoax alleging that “Video shock: Pakistani fanatics declare jihad in Greece – small children are initiated in the use of weapons” – the video is from a school play in the celebration of a Pakistani national day.
  • An at the time Deputy Minister of Education who said in a speech before Parliament inter alia that “with patience and perseverance Jews secured the ownership of the Holocaust so as to claim their vindication.”
  • An extreme right columnist and an extreme right blog who published in front pages an article with the title “Parliament a Jewish Synagogue!!!” when a commemorative plaque for inter-war Greek Jewish MPs victims of the Holocaust was inaugurated in Parliament.

Moreover, in the information provided by Greece, detailed reference is made to two court judgments, both though involving GHM. Athens First Instance Court Judgment 1667/2018 concerns a Golden Dawn candidate who proffered on camera racist insults against Pakistani migrants. This was his conviction on appeal. In the first instance trial, two GHM lawyers had provided support for a Pakistani community leader as civil claimant. However, in the very end of that trial the civil claimant was thrown out as not personally offended. Athens Mixed Jury Appeals Court Judgment 286/2019 was the conviction on appeal of two Golden Dawn members who had killed a Pakistani migrant, where GHM spokesperson was involved as a witness in the first instance trial to explain racist motivation. However, and contrary to the claims of the government, the judgment did not include the racist motivation because (as expressly stated in p. 110) the previous related article 79.3 PC had been abolished while the new Article 81A PC called for harsher sentencing and thus could not be used. In any case, the CM-DH should know that the two defendants had been convicted to life in prison sentences at the first instance trial. On appeal, though, they were convicted to a reduced prison sentence of 21 years and 5 months, as the court recognized the mitigating circumstance of good behavior after the act. Moreover, they have since been set free after having stayed in prison for 6 years and 4 months, because of several measures allowing such release on parole! Finally, as to the claims of Greece that the parents of the victim were informed and travelled to Greece and testified, all that was done by a group of volunteer lawyers of the Jail Golden Dawn collective who bore all the expenses.

Regrettably, several prosecutors do not use Article 81A (now 82A) on racist motivation even in blatant racist cases. GHM referred in December 2018 to the Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation two examples. In November 2018, six persons were convicted (to light sentences up to 15 years that triggered a prosecutor’s appeal) for the brutal murder of an African American tourist in Zakynthos. Although GHM had asked during the pre-trial procedure that the charges include racist motive, this was not done. In December 2018, an asylum seeker from Bangladesh was badly beaten with an iron bar by a resident in Lesbos: the case was not assigned to the Prosecutor for Racist Crimes of Lesbos and the charges did not include racist motivation. In the same letter, GHM informed the Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation that the Athens Prosecutors for Racist Crimes does not have an office and changes very year; that who is the Piraeus Prosecutor for Racist Crimes is not known even by members of the secretariat of that Prosecutor’s Office when asked (by GHM) and that several court briefs on alleged racist crimes were assigned not to her but to all Piraeus Prosecutors; and that the same practice of assignment of complaints for racist crimes to various prosecutors occurs in the other 22 regional Prosecutor Offices despite the fact that in each one of them a Prosecutor for Racist Crimes is formally assigned that duty and all the 24 such names are in a Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation list. No wonder than that even Greece in its communication to CM-DH on the Sakir group of cases makes reference to the appointment of just five Prosecutors for Racist Crimes and not to the 24 appointed such Prosecutors!

Finally, the problem is not just with prosecutors but also with judges that acquit defendants for notorious racist articles; in some cases these defendants are supported by calls for acquittal by prominent persons including a former EU Ombudsman and several academics. From the “Islamophobia in Greece: National Report 2018” written by two academic researchers:

In May 2018, the trial of a well-known author who wrote an Islamophobic text after the attacks of November 2015 in Paris took place in Athens after a lawsuit of the Greek Helsinki Monitor. The trial was to take place initially during 2017 but it was postponed. According to the charges she went on trial for violating the anti-racist law (4285/2014) and some articles of the penal code and more particularly for public incitement of violence and hatred. It should be noted that the author was supported by other authors and journalists arguing either that she has the right of freedom of speech or that she said nothing wrong because Islam is indeed a problem and not a moderate religion. The court acquitted her on all charges, a decision that, on the one hand, was considered as a victory of freedom of speech and opinion, and, on the other, as a victory of racist and Islamophobic discourse. What was also interesting and publicly commented on was the oration of the public prosecutor in which she argued that “the opinions the accused expressed are similar to the views that passed through our minds after the attack in Bataclan [Paris, 2015]. Her text is just an expression of opinion and it is impossible to satisfy the burden of proof that a crime was committed”. As some argued, such an oration coming from a judge proves that Islamophobia runs deep in Greek society on many different levels -something that needs to be addressed.

GHM quotes here selected excerpts from the incriminating text: “Islam is not a religion like the other [religions], it is a political programme, it is an ideology of barbarisation… The militant Muslim is the person who beheads the infidel, while the moderate Muslim holds the feet of the victim.”

A few years ago the aforementioned self-professed Nazi, initially convicted at the first instance trial, was acquitted on appeal, which was subsequently confirmed by the Court of Cassation, of racism charges for his book “Jews – The whole truth” . Selected excerpts by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece “I declare from the outset that I am a Nazi and a fascist, racist, anti-democratic and am an anti-Semite… That’s the only thing Jews understand: an execution squad within 24 hours… Ridding Europe of the Jews is necessary because Judaism poses a threat to the freedom of Nations… I constantly blame the German Nazis for not ridding our Europe of Jewish Zionism when it was in their power to do so… And now the time has come for us to call the Jew by the name he deserves…… He is the sub-human Jew!… It is the fault of the civilized world that tolerates the international parasites that are called Jews… the time for retaliation has come… My book, which you are now reading, is simple proof that we are not afraid of the Jews. We scorn them for their morality, their religion, and their acts, which together prove that they are sub-human… Mark my words. This time there will be no kind German Nazis to gather up the Jews and send them to Madagascar, but Knights of the White Apocalypse. I imagine them galloping, swords unsheathed, on golden steeds of death… Free yourselves from Jewish propaganda that deceives you with falsehoods about concentration camps, gas chambers, ‘ovens’ and other fairy tales about the pseudo-holocaust…” The trial was held following a GHM complaint.

Recommendations to the Committee of Ministers

The Committee of Ministers is requested to ask Greece to: 

  1. Amend anti-racism Law 927/79 so as to implement recommendations by ECRI, UN HRCttee and UN CERD to criminalize racist insults and defamation, and the public dissemination, public distribution or production or storage of racist material.
  1. Intensify its measures to strengthen the application of anti-racism provisions, including through regular mandatory pre-service and in-service training, especially among the police, prosecutors, judiciary and lawyers, on the legal framework governing anti-discrimination and on the investigation of complaints of hate crimes.
  1. Improve the data collection so that it reflects accurately the existing situation including an analysis by Prosecutor Offices and by nature of the charges pressed and of the crimes for which acquittals or convictions have been issued, as well as specify if they concern first instance judgments or are final upheld on appeal.
  1. Cooperate with civil society organizations that file complaints for alleged racist crimes both in data collection and with membership in related working groups or national commissions for human rights or against racism (Note: GHM is not a member in either).
  1. Request from the Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation to seek available remedies against archiving decisions or judgments that lead to non-prosecution or acquittals for manifestly evident racist crimes, as well as against the failure to invoke a racist motive when it is manifestly evident, even in convictions.
  1. Set a 2020 deadline for the submission of information regarding the implementation of the above recommendations, taking into consideration the anticipated ECRI contact visit in 2020 for the preparation of ECRI’s 6th cycle country monitoring report on Greece.

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