A Sussex postgraduate student was arrested and harassed by Greek police whilst visiting family in Athens over the Christmas holiday. Myrto, 26, was on her way to visit the bank with her mother on 15 December 2008 when she was accosted by police near the Athens General Police Directorate (GADA), who told them that they were not allowed to proceed any further. Having previously been on their way to the metro station, Myrto’s mother asked the police for directions whilst Myrto waited across the street.
One of the members of the riot police squad started to verbally abuse Myrto, causing her to shout back in return. Almost immediately several police officers physically attacked her, knocking her down to the ground. With her panic-stricken mother pleading with the police to leave her daughter, Myrto suffered repeated blows and kickings, as well as a torrent of violent verbal abuse. Eventually she was arrested and taken to the GADA. She asked repeatedly why she had been arrested but received no answer. Once at police headquarters Myrto was put in a room for several hours and subjected to a protracted interrogation where she was harassed throughout, questioned about the camera in her bag and her lack of Greek ID, with officers accusing her of being a foreign journalist.
When an advocate for another detainee entered the room the officers immediately stopped their attempts at intimidation. The lawyer attempted to approach Myrto, but she was told by the police that she already had an advocate waiting outside the room. The lawyer replied that this was the girl’s mother who had in fact appointed her to act as Myrto’s advocate.
Myrto was eventually informed that she had been accused of civil disobedience. She was subsequently released although her injuries required a hospital visit.
Myrto’s experience is just one example of a series of incidents which have contributed towards the discontent and frustration in Greece that is increasingly erupting into unrest and rioting. A witness, contacting the BBC, told of “unjustified brutality and aggression” when the police disrupted a peaceful protest march in the district of Gazi with beatings and strip searches. The incident occurred not long after a fifteen year old boy, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, was shot dead by police, causing hundreds to rampage through Athens. Since his death some 400 people have been arrested and 70 people injured. Police are replying with equal severity to the violent and non-violent, often targeting peaceful protesters, those with cameras or passersby.
It seems that a crisis has arrived in Greece with the younger generation becoming increasingly dissatisfied with what they perceive to be incompetency and corruption of the state. The aggressive policing of civil discontent is transforming these undercurrents of anger into outright disobedience. Unfortunately as tensions explode repressions may be even more severe. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is reported to have told the Karolas Papoulias, the President, that the “enemies of democracy” would meet with little leniency.
The officers involved in Alexandros Grigoropoulos have been arrested and charged. They have also been suspended, along with the precinct police chief of Exarchia, the district where the teenager was killed. The interior minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos has promised a complete investigation. In response to questions from the BBC about the incident in Gazi , the Greek police headquarters issued a statement denying the use of force, claiming that teams of police officers had been deployed in order to make arrests in an area where a group of people had been causing a disturbance.