GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR (Greek National Committee of the International Helsinki Federation) & MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP - GREECE (Greek Affiliate of Minority Rights Group International) P.O. Box 51393, GR-14510 Kifisia, Greece Tel. 30-1-620.01.20; Fax: 30-1-807.57.67; E-mail: helsinki@compulink.gr __________________________________________________________________

PRESS RELEASE

27/10/1997

TOPIC: POSTPONEMENT OF TRIAL MEANS 11 MORE MONTHS OF LIMBO FOR ETHNIC MACEDONIANS SEEKING RIGHTS IN GREECE. REPORT OF INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS TRIAL OBSERVATION MISSION.

Vienna, 27 October 1997. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) expresses serious concern over a series of due process and fair trial violations in the context of charges against the leadership of the "Rainbow" Macedonian minority party in Greece, as well as in other cases during the IHF's observation mission in Florina on 14 October 1997. These and other of Greece's violations of the Helsinki principles will be brought to the attention of the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE in November.

The decision to postpone the trial in effect keeps the defendants hostages for almost another year as they remain charged with the "crime" of speaking in their mother tongue. Four members of "Rainbow", a legal political party, are charged under Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code concerning incitement to violence or peace disturbance, for hanging a sign in the party's office displaying the words "Lerinski Komitet," in their native Macedonian language.

The IHF, in a 9 October 1997 statement, expressed its concerns about the charges brought against these individuals. Our organization stated that a verdict of guilt of the accused on such grounds would put Greece in the position of violating its international obligations under the recently signed "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities" of the Council of Europe, and its commitments undertaken as a member of the OSCE with regard to freedom of expression and minority rights.

The monitoring mission noticed that the Court seemed unwilling to try the case. Namely, the defendants had, on 9 October 1997, applied for a low number, which would have guaranteed the holding of the trial that day, explaining that there were circumstances for such a priority to be given: their lawyer as well as some of their witnesses were to come from Salonica and Athens. Instead, the public prosecutor gave the trial number 64 out of 75.

In a similar motion of the defense on 14 October, the court stated that indeed it was aware of the demand and was going to try the case after the mid-day recess at 12:30, postponing the other pending trials. Instead, at 12:30, the court announced that it was rejecting the request as the other cases were also important and also it expected an "in flagrante" case (for crimes caught in the act and need be tried within 48 hours) to be tried around 13:00.

Finally, the Court recessed for the "in flagrante" case after having heard 61 cases, i.e. three short of the trial under consideration here. The Court gave the impression that during its first recess it was instructed to assure the postponement of the case. Moreover, though usually new dates are set within three or four months at most, the public prosecutor gave a new date eleven months away, on 15 September 1998.

The defendants are thus held "hostages" as they and their party's choice to express itself in their mother tongue continue to be prosecuted for another year. The IHF appeals to the Greek government to drop the charges against the defendants and discontinue prosecution.

The IHF mission was also informed by the court clerk that the charges the "Rainbow" leaders pressed, in December 1995, against those who attacked and sacked their offices were still at the level of the inquest: though all witnesses suggested by the plaintiffs had made statements, none of the dozen defendants, though summoned, had made his apology; and the prosecutor had not sent them new summons to do so or issued indictments as he could but simply let the file rest for over a year, giving the impression that it does not want to press charges. The IHF deplores that no charges have been brought against these individuals and urges the Greek government to initiate criminal proceedings against them, showing that it will not tolerate mob justice.

Media Coverage of the Rainbow Case

During the court's short hearing for the postponement, a lawyer from Florina harassed a journalist from the Macedonian television MTV without the intervention of the police or security guards: the incident was in fact reported the following day in a mass circulation Athens newspaper which praised the lawyer's behavior and called the journalist, whose comportment was impeccable," impudent." In fact, the coverage of the trial by the major newspapers in Greece is another point of concern. Already in the events of September 1995 which led to the sacking of the "Rainbow" offices, the IHF (which at the time was monitoring hate speech in the media of all Balkan countries) reported that inflammatory hate speech in some local and Athens newspapers after that party put up the sign with its title in Greek and Macedonian had contributed to the development of the events that led to the sacking of the offices by a mob under the direction of the mayor.

References to this year's trial were scant and, on 13-15 October, full of negative stereotypes and hate speech in the three large circulation Athens papers that referred to the trial. One called the defendants "Skopjanophiles" and added that "they tried to exploit the trial to further their propaganda, were provocative in the court building ... frequently engaged in broils and scuffles with other citizens" (Eleftherotypia, 15/10), allegations totally inconsistent with the observations of the IHF mission.

Another--the same which praised the lawyer's harassment of the foreign journalist--called the defendants "autonomists -- Skopjanophiles" –although Rainbow has never demanded autonomy- and added equally inaccurately that they were charged with "insult; instigating principals in a threat; instigating principals in damaging property, threat; damaging property, for having put up in their offices signs in Bulgarian, on 14-9-95" (Eleftheros Typos, 15/10).

A third newspaper (Adesmeftos Typos), in two consecutive columns, called "Rainbow" a "Trojan association of afflicted relatives and friends" which "two years ago brutally provoked public feeling ... by putting up the Slavic sign 'Lerinski Komitet.' ... The attempt to incite and as a result the indictment of citizens was obvious. Hence the charges against them and the trial tomorrow of these provocators" (13/10). As for the Greek and international observers and/or witnesses in the trial, they were called among other things "a dazzling hodgepodge of ... international or naive advocates, observers who create and maintain such issues, refined diplomats and rabid agents" (14/10).

Violations in Other Case Observed

Finally, the IHF mission, while waiting for the completion of the trial procedure monitored the "in flagrante" trial of one Greek bar owner, and one Russian and three Ukranians who were allegedly employed by him. They were charged with illegal entry, illegal employment and, the owner and one foreigner, debauch. The defendants were arrested in the early hours of 13/10 and, as the Greek defendant's lawyer told the IHF mission, the case should have been tried the same day: it was held up for a day without any official reason but, as he added "we all know why" meaning that the court kept the case to use it to secure postponement of the "Rainbow" trial. On this matter, it should be said that one court room was empty and could have been used for this trial which would have allowed the "Rainbow" trial to take place.

In the event the court tried the defendants using one of them, the Russian, who had a working knowledge of Greek, as an interpreter for the other three foreign defendants. A procedure which is violating the Greek Penal Procedure Code (a defendant cannot also be an interpreter) and all principles of due process as the defendants in fact had no adequate translation: during the 45 minute trial, there was hardly any translation for the three Ukranians. All four stated in the end that even the deposition they made to the police station before the trial and signed –in Greek- was done in the same way: the Russian translated to them what the police read them.

In February and September 1997, two other IHF missions in Greece, have stated the problem to the Greek Ministry of Justice. We have been answered that all courts are adequately equipped for that matter and asked for specific cases to be reported to them. Greek Helsinki Monitor has written to the Minister of Justice on 21 October 1997 on this case.

The IHF Trial Observation Mission included Meto Jovanovski, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, and Panayote Dimitras, Vasilis Sakelariou and Nasos Theodoridis of the Greek Helsinki Monitor.

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HELSINKI CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY

To: Greek Helsinki Monitor 21 October 1997 (sent by e-mail)

The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly is in agreement with the sentiments of your message and the protest letters included. It is a very worrying situation if Greece, an EU member state, can conduct actions against its minorities with impunity. We understand that the date of the trial has been postponed until next October. Please keep us informed of developments in this case and let us know if we can be of any assistance, such as through sending letters of protest to the appropriate authorities.

Best wishes,

Josh Kaldor-Robinson, International Secretariat Helsinki Citizens' Assembly tel.: 420 2 371 241, ext 262, or 259, or 251 fax: 420 2 381 585 (attn. HCA) e-mail: hca@ecn.cz