Greece: Conscientious objector on trial

Union of Conscientious Objectors

Greek conscientious objector Lazaros Petromelides stood trial again on 16 April 2002, but the trial was postponed again to autumn 2002.

Lazaros Petromelides was called to serve in the Greek Navy in 1992 and, following the practice then recommended by the Greek Union of COs, he sent a letter detailing the reasons that forbade him to serve in the Armed Forces. In the same letter he asked to be placed in an alternative, non-military national service. There was no provision for such a service then. The navy declared him "evading the draft" in March 1992 and 3 months later he was forbidden from travelling abroad. At the time it was common practice for conscientious objectors to move house so as for the authorities to lose track of them, but Petromelides chose to remain at his known address.

Around Christmas 1996 he was called to the Naval Court, where the public prosecutor charged him with "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobilisation" (Greece has remained in a state of "General military mobilisation" ever since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 for reasons of international politics.). Presenting himself to the Court would mean certain arrest, so Petromelides sent a written statement explaining his opinions.

The public prosecutor did not admit this statement. He produced instead an arrest warrant, although the Minister of Defence had already promised to bring to Parliament a law that would recognise conscientious objection. Law 2510/97 was passed only four months later. One month after the warrant, however, the Judicial Council of Peiraeus ordered Petromelides to be remanded to custody, characterising him a "particularly dangerous person".

In April 1998, and while the new law was in force, police men from Drapetsona station (where Petromelides lives) arrested him for "evasion of draft". According to the Greek law they were obliged to let him go and at the same time notify the Navy recruitment office of his arrest. However, the police wrongly interpreted the order of the Judicial Council as overriding Greek law and illegally detained Petromelides in the Corinth Military Prison. This imprisonment attracted great publicity and as Petromelides remained available for civil national service, the Peiraeus Naval Court decided after 5 days to let Petromelides out of jail so as to formally apply for alternative service.

Petromelides was granted conscientious objector (CO) status in January 1999 but was ordered to serve for 30 months at Kilkis Old People's Home, in a town 550 km (340 miles) away from his family home. If he would make himself available for military service he would serve for 4 months fairly near his family. Petromelides therefore considered that the law under which his order was made contravened the Greek constitution. He therefore did not present himself for service, but instead took the only legal action available to him.

He applied (within the appropriate time limits, in March 1999) to the highest Greek court (Symboulio tis Epikrateias, StE). The Naval Court of Peiraeus took none of the above into consideration. According to the provisions of law 2510/97 Petromelides was deprived of CO status and was called to court again in April 1999. He presented himself to the court, was convicted to four years imprisonment for "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobili sation" and was detained in Corinth Military Prison.

A large wave of solidarity developed while the official Ombudsman (Sinigoros tou Politi, StP) clearly expressed that the requests of Petromelides were just in a special report on conscientious objectors.

These developments resulted in the release of Petromelides from prison by the court of appeal (the military 'Review Court') after 2.5 months. The Review Court trial was interrupted in order, ultimately, to wait for the decision of the constitutional court. In Parliament the Minister of Defence answered a relevant member's question by saying that the government was working for a change of law based on the ombudsman's report. Despite all, on being released from prison Petromelides was called to start military service again. He didn't comply and a further arrest warrant was produced for the same offence, which hasn't been implemented yet. Now, nearly three years later, nothing has changed. The StE has not come to a decision as yet, which is indicative of how serious the matter is.

The position of Petromelides is representative of the legal status of many Greek COs, as successive arrest warrants and prosecutions for draft evasion have produced a situation that not even the courts can successfully resolve. Radical solutions are necessary, including the unconditional release of jailed COs, respect of the right to refuse military service for reasons of conscience, trials of COs by civil not military courts and above all the removal of the responsibility for COs from the Ministry of Defence, according, among others, with the proposals of the Ombudsman.