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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Skouries: from intimidation to terror

For background on the issue of ore mining in Halkidiki, see here and here.  

The human rights situation in north-eastern Halkidiki (also spelled Chalkidiki) is still deteriorating since the arson attack on the work site of mining company Hellas Gold in Skouries on 17 February 2013. There have been dozens of random detentions of local residents by the police, without any result so far and most importantly without any charges being pressed against any of the detainees.

The latest - and most shocking - case of detention is a 15-year-old female student from the Ierissos high school, who was summoned today to the regional police HQ in Polygyros for interrogation. The entire village of Ierissos went in an uproar, with church bells ringing and schoolchildren staging a protest in front of the local police station together with their families. The police decision was condemned by the Coordination Committee of Associations in Stagira-Akanthos as well as local attorneys, who specifically denounced the fact that "witnesses" or "detainees" summoned by the police have no access to legal assistance during their interrogation and that the police essentially force them to give a DNA sample, which is illegal as no charges have been pressed against them.


In total, 13 youth from Ierissos were summoned to the Polygyros police HQ today, of which 2 are aged under 18. A most noteworthy detail in the case of the 15-year-old girl is the fact that her summons to the police station was sent, not to her home, but to her school.

At the time of writing (18:00 EET) the 13 detainees are being questioned in Polygyros, while their lawyers are not allowed inside by the police. Some 200 protesters have gathered outside the police HQ, with more arriving constantly. Activists present outside the police HQ also report a heavy presence of riot police. Those detainees who have been released said that they were not asked to give a DNA sample.
Update 18:30 EET: Following complaints by the lawyers, the 15-year-old girl was released and will receive tomorrow a special "invitation" to the police, issued in writing and which will specify that she should be accompanied by her parents and a lawyer. The other minor who was detained has already been released. Eyewitnesses report however that another 3 detainees just arrived at the Polygyros police HQ. 
Update 06 March 2013, 13:30 EET: The 15-year-old girl was summoned again in writing to the Polygyros police HQ today at 7pm. After her father denounced the fact that yesterday's summons was an anonymous phone call to her school, the Polygyros National Security Directorate answered that "the service had never summoned her, for any case it is processing." The student, parent and teacher associations of the Ierissos secondary school have issued statements in protest. The school is closed again today. 
This is not the first detention of a high school student from Ierissos. Another, 18-year-old student was detained on 27 February and released without charges. He told journalist Dina Daskalopoulou that the police however forced him to hand over a DNA sample, threatening not only not to release him if he didn't comply, but also to rough him up if necessary. They then made him sign a statement saying that he had given it of his own free will.

A brief timeline of more notable cases of detention and arrest (more details here and here)

  • 17 February: more than 30 detentions, mostly in the villages of Ierissos and Megali Panagia. All detainees were released without charges within a few hours.
  • 18 February: Arrest and trial in flagrante of Lazaros Toskas, a resident of Megali Panagia and prominent member of the local chapter of SYRIZA, following accusations by the worksite's private security guards that he was the moral instigator of the arson attack. The guards were able to provide no evidence whatsoever of their claims, and Toskas was subsequently released. He has filed a counter-lawsuit for defamation. The arrest warrants issued against two other activists on the same grounds were never executed but have not been invalidated either. 
  • 20 February: "kidnapping" of 2 residents of Ierissos by the police. The two men were taken to the Polygyros police HQ and held incommunicado without charges for 5 hours. The police denied to relatives, friends and lawyers that it had any information on their whereabouts until the mother of one of the detainees caught a glimpse of her son through a basement window. Both were released without charges and intend to file a lawsuit against the police. 
  • 23 February: detention for 14 hours of a woman from Ouranoupoli. She was taken around 6am to the police HQ in the regional capital Polygyros and was not released until after 8pm. Her husband was detained later during the day, as well as a friend who had joined a crowd of protesters outside the Polygyros police HQ and was lured inside by the police. The police further performed a search of her house in the presence of a prosecutor who failed to produce a warrant. All three were released without charges.
  • 26 February: the police take by (physical) force a DNA sample from a man they were interrogating in the Polygyros police HQ. 
  • 27 February: detention of a 19-year-old high school student in Ierissos. The school is shut down in protest. The student was released without charges.
  • 28 February: 4 students from Ierissos were detained in Thessaloniki by National Security. The two girls were released shortly after being detained but the two boys were held for several hours. The father of one of the boys denounced mistreatment and torture of his son in detention. The boys were finally released without charges. 
  • 01-02 March: a total of 24 detentions in Ierissos and Nea Roda were reported by residents. All detainees were released without charges. 
Meanwhile, a demonstration of mining supporters, mostly employees of Hellas Gold and its parent company AKTOR, took place in the village of Megali Panagia on Saturday 02 March. New Democracy MP Adonis Georgiadis, who spoke at the rally, claimed that an impossible 6,000 people participated. The fact that the rally was entirely choreographed is plainly obvious in the video livestreamed by news website seleo.gr, where a speaker can be heard asking participants to fill in the gaps in the crowd in order to make it seem bigger. Residents of the area, as far away as the village of Stavros outside the mining area, also reported receiving phone calls from the mining company and the miners' union to pressure them  to attend the rally during the course of the week. Amusingly enough, at least two news websites used pictures from the anti-mining rally held in Megali Panagia on Sunday 24 February to illustrate their coverage of the pro-mining rally. 

Another anti-mining demonstration took place on 04 March in Alexandroupoli, Thrace, another area of northern Greece threatened with ore mining. A joint demonstration of the anti-mining movements in Halkidiki, Kilkis and Thrace is due to take place in Thessaloniki on 09 March.

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