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Lazaros Petromelidis: Factfile

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Lazaros PetromelidisLazaros Petromelidis

Lazaros Petromelidis is 42 years old and a married father of an 11-year old son. He studied economics and for the past 8 years he has worked in support of socially excluded groups, such as travellers and refugees. He has been a member of the Hellenic Association of Conscientious Objectors (HACO) since 1991.

March 1992:
Lazaros Petromelidis declares his conscientious objection
Christmas 1996:
Lazaros is charged with "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobilisation", and in his absence from court a warrant is issued for his arrest.
Early 1998:
Law 2510/97 is enacted & Lazaros applies for CO status.
May 1998:
Lazaros is arrested for "evasion of draft" when Drapetsona police fail to pass on a document confirming his CO status and misinterpret the order of Judicial Council as overriding Greek law. They illegally detain him in Corinth Military Prison. He is released after 5 days so as to formally apply for alternative service.
January 1999:
Lazaros is granted CO status. He is required to perform alternative service at Chronic Diseases Clinic of Kilkis but he refuses on the grounds that, at seven-and-a-half times longer than non-CO service, it is punitive and discriminatory.
March 1999:
He applies to the highest Greek court (Symboulio tis Epikrateias, StE) to challenge the terms of his alternative service.
April 15 1999:
Lazaros is convicted by the Naval Court of Peiraeus to 4 years imprisonment for "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobilisation" (by refusing to perform the discriminatory alternative service) and is detained in Corinth Military Prison. He is released after 2.5 months amidst a wave of publicity and support from the Greek Ombudsman. His appeal through the military 'Review Court' is suspended in order to wait for the decision of the StE. On release from prison, Lazaros is called up again, and due to his non-compliance another warrant for his arrest is issued.
June 1999:
Appeal trial against 4 year prison sentence for draft evasion is postponed.
June 2001:
Appeal trial against 4 year prison sentence for draft evasion is postponed due to failure of military witness' attendance.
April 2002:
Appeal trial against 4 year prison sentence for draft evasion is postponed until 17 September 2002.
17 September 2002:
He appears before the Military Court of Appeal in Athens to ask for postponement of the trial due to the absence of his lawyers. This is granted, but he is issued with a warrant from the Council of the Naval Court of Peiraeus and arrested for a later draft evasion. His requests for a couple of days postponement in order to find a lawyer and to apply there for his release until the day of the trial are refused. He is imprisoned.
20 September 2002:
He is freed on bail of 1,000 Euros, to re-appear at the Military Court of Thessaloniki to be tried for his later draft evasion.
12 June 2003:
Lazaros is sentenced at the Review Military Court in Athens to 20 months suspended sentence (suspended for 3 years) pertaining to his refusal to perform the alternative service.
18 September 2003:
Lazaros is aquitted at the Navy Martial Court of Thessolaniki for his later 'offence' of "insubordination".
13 November 2003:
Lazaros attends his trial for a further draft evasion but it is postponed until 19 February 2004.
18 November 2003:
Police go to his house to arrest him for draft evasion but he is not there. He communicates with an officer of the Conscription Office of Peiraeus and is informed that although a penal prosecution against him for draft evasion started on 3 July 2003, his presence at his trial on 13 November 2003 (that was postponed) is equivalent to appearance before military authorities, and as a result means that this draft evasion is stopped.
19 February 2004:
At Lazaros' trial for a further draft evasion the military court rules that due to the fact that he is a conscientious objector, they do not have any jurisdiction over his case and he therefore must be tried by a civilian court.
Sept - Nov 2004:
Police attempt 4 times to arrest Lazaros on yet another count of draft evasion.
16 December 2004:
Trial for 2 draft evasions (1999 & 2003). Sentenced in absentia to 2 1/2 years. As he did not attend his trial, he remains under threat of arrest.

The case in Law:

  • Article 14 paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country."
  • UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/45 states that states should refrain from using the judicial system to force conscientious objectors to change their convictions.

Background:

Lazaros Petromelidis declared his conscientious objection to military service in March 1992 when he was called to serve in the Greek Navy. Following the practice then recommended by the Hellenic Association of Conscientious Objectors (HACO) - of which he has been a member since 1991 - Mr Petromelidis sent a letter detailing the reasons that forbade him from serving in the Armed Forces. In the same letter he asked to be placed in an alternative, non-military service, however at this time the right to CO was not yet recognised in Greece, and there was certainly no provision for an alternative service. As such, since this time, Lazaros Petromelidis has been considered a draft evader, and has been subject to all the restrictions and discriminations associated with "evading the draft". For example, it is a crime to employ draft evaders, and as a draft evader he is forbidden from travelling abroad.

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"[1]. Presenting himself to the court would mean certain arrest, so Petromelidis 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. Indeed, Law 2510/97 was passed only four months later. One month after the warrant, however, the Judicial Council of Peiraeus pronounced that Petromelidis should be remanded in custody, characterising him a "particularly dangerous person".

When the law 2510/97 was enacted, he applied for CO status, but in May 1998 policemen from Drapetsona police station (where Petromelidis lives) arrested him for "evasion of draft". The police station failed to pass on to the relevant authorities the document stating that Petromelidis has never applied for a licence to carry a weapon - a document which is necessary in order to be recognised as a CO. According to 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 Petromelidis in the Corinth Military Prison. This imprisonment attracted great publicity, and as Petromelidis remained available for civil national service, the Peiraeus Naval Court decided after 5 days to let him out of jail so as to formally apply for alternative service.

Petromelidis was granted CO status in January 1999 but was ordered to serve for 30 months at Chronic Diseases Clinic of Kilkis, north of Thessaloniki and 550km (340 miles) away from his family home. Military service for a man if his age and family circumstances would last 4 months - given the right to buy exemption from 8 months of a 12 months service - and would take place near his home. Petromelidis therefore considered that the law under which his order was made - under which he would serve seven-and-a-half times longer than as a non-CO - was discriminatory and 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). However, according to the Greek legal system, he first had to be granted CO status and then challenge the law in the StE, as otherwise he would have "no interest in the law".

The Naval Court of Peiraeus took none of the above into consideration. According to the provisions of law 2510/97 Petromelidis was deprived of CO status and was called to court again in April 1999. On April 15 1999, Petromelidis presented himself to the court, was convicted to four years imprisonment for "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobilisation" (his initial offence prior to his CO status) and was detained in Corinth Military Prison.

A large wave of solidarity developed while the official Ombudsman (Sinigoros tou Politi, StP) clearly expressed in a special report on conscientious objectors that the requests of Petromelidis were just. These developments resulted in the release of Petromelidis from prison by the court of appeal (the military 'Review Court') after 2.5 months. The Review Court order was interrupted in order to wait for the decision of StE, 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 this, on being released from prison, Petromelidis was called to start military service again. He didn't comply and a further arrest warrant was produced for the same offence.

Since then, appeal hearings for the second offence of not performing the prescribed alternative service have been scheduled to take place in June 1999, June 2001 and April 2002, but all were postponed for one reason or another. On 17 September 2002, Petromelidis appeared before the Military Court of Appeal in Athens to ask for postponement of the trial on the grounds that both his lawyers were unable to attend. The judges accepted his request and dismissed him, after informing him that he has a second same charge of insubordination - due to his failure to register for service when called-up by the Navy a few months previously. Petromelidis was thus presented with a warrant issued by the Council of the Naval Court of Peiraeus and arrested before he even exited the court. He was first transferred to a police station, and a couple of hours later he was transferred to the Naval Court where he was taken into the office of the Naval Procurator of Peiraeus. The Procurator ordered his immediate detention awaiting trial in Korydallos prison without accepting Petromelidis request for a couple of days postponement in order to find a lawyer and without even allowing Petromelidis to apply there for his release until the day of the trial. He was told instead to apply the following day in the prison secretariat. Petromelidis was therefore transferred immediately to Korydallos prison in Athens (one of the worst prisons in Greece). On 20 September, Petromelidis was freed on bail of 1,000 Euros, to re-appear at the Military Court of Thessaloniki where trial for his second draft evasion - illegal under the European Convention of Human Rights - would take place.

Petromelidis trial for the initial charge of failing to perform the grossly punitive alternative service finally took place on 12 June 2003 at the 'Review Military Court' of Athens. After aggressive questioning of witnesses by the Military Prosecutor and 5 judges, Petromelidis was given a 20 month suspended (for 3 months) sentence (out of a maximum of 24 months that crimes of this seriousness can now attract, given that Greece is no longer in a state of 'general military mobilisation').

On 18 September 2003 Petromelidis faced yet another trial at the Navy Martial Court of Thessolaniki for his second 'offence' of "insubordination". At this trial he was acquitted. However, since then, having lost his CO status, he has been repeatedly called up to perform military service and consequently accused and prosecuted again for draft evasion every time. Every one of these prosecutions stopped when Petromelidis went to Courts Martial for one of the other two cases (because when you are a draft evader and go to any military authority for whatever reason your draft evasion is considered to have stopped, until the next call up one or two months later). So, for example, on 18 November 2003, when police went to his house to arrest him and Petromelidis was not there, he communicated with an officer of the Conscription Office of Peiraeus who informed him that a penal prosecution against him, for draft evasion, started on 3 July 2003, but that his presence at his trial at the Navy Court Martial of Thessaloniki on 13 November 2003 (that was postponed) is equivalent to appearance before military authorities, and as a result means that his draft evasion is stopped. However, he was also informed that he would be called up again in January 2004. So, after he was acquitted Lazaros had no reason to go to military authorities, but nevertheless he was again called up to perform military service and then he was prosecuted, once more, for draft evasion and an arrest warrant against him was issued.

On 16 December Lazaros Petromelidis was sentenced to 2 1/2 years imprisonment for two charges of "insubordination", dating from 26 July 1999 and 3 July 2003. The trial was carried out in his absence. Lazaros chose to fax the court a letter today explaining the reasons why he would not appear in court.

He is now under imminent threat of arrest. An appeal against the sentence would not allow for release on bail until the appeal trial.

The new sentence is in contradiction to Article 14 paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country." Therefore, War Resisters' International calls for the suspension of his sentence.[2]

Notes

[1] At this time Greece was in a state of "general military mobilisation" for reasons of international politics (since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974).
[2] WRI's most recent CO-Alerts about Lazaros Petromelidis are: GR12008-091204 (9 December 2004) and GR12008-161204 (16 December 2004)