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Greece: New trials against conscientious objectors - endless recoil

Joint Public Statement by European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, War Resisters' International, Amnesty International Greek Section

The greek section of Amnesty International, the European Bureau for Conscientious Objectors and War Resisters' International, once again, express their concern about the continuing violations of the human rights of conscientious objectors in Greece. Five years after their previous joint public statement (Greece has broken european consensus), the three organisations urge again the greek authorities to comply with european and international standards and recommendations and put an end to all prosecutions and imprisonment sentences against conscientious objectors. “The prosecutions against conscientious objectors are a result of the problematic greek legislation. Significant improvements are required urgently. We are expecting the government to rationalize the institution and bring the process in line with the european and international standards”, they stressed.

Giorgos Monastiriotis, a professional soldier who refused to participate in the Iraq war for ideological reasons of conscience, is again on trial on 18/02 for the third desertion charge before the Appeal Military Court of Athens. The prosecution against Monastiriotis violates his right to change his beliefs and develop a conscientious objection after joining the armed forces. In addition, his repeated convictions for desertion violate Article 14 paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that: "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."

Evangelos Mihalopoulos, a conscientious objector on ideological grounds, is on trial on 19/02 charged with insubordination before the Military Court of Athens. The prosecution against Mihalopoulos violates his right to conscientious objection since the civilian service which he is called to perform is discriminatory and punitive in nature and length. It’s under the authority of the Ministry of Defense and it lasts 17 months, while the military service lasts 9 months.

In addition, there is a series of prosecutions against conscientious objectors for insubordination, because they are not recognized due to problems in the application procedure. When Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses Ioannis Paraskevas, Evgenios Kelesidis and Nikolaos Tataridis applied as conscientious objectors to perform alternative service in place of military service their applications were rejected on the grounds that they had previously stayed overnight in a military camp, waiting for the medical examination to determine whether they were fit for military service. Furthermore, Christian Jehovah’s Witness Dimitrios Pitsikalis, whose case is pending since 2000, was not recognised as conscientious objector, due to deadline problems in the application procedure.

The three organisations welcome the recent decision No. 170/2010 of the Plenary Session of the State Council, which accepted the appeal of Evangelos Delis, a Christian Jehovah’s Witness who was not recognized as reservist conscientious objector in 2003 because he had served armed military service in 1994-1996, when he was not a Jehovah’s Witness. The State Council stated that he should be recognised as conscientious objector for the reservist service because he changed his religious beliefs after having served his armed military service. “We welcome the decision No. 170/2010 of the State Council and we call the greek government to amend the greek law accordingly, so that persons who change their religious or ideological beliefs during or after their military service, including professional soldiers, are recognized as conscientious objectors”, the three organisations stated. Such cases include the Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses Aris Houridis, Athanasios Koutsis, Nikolaos Vlahakis and Nikolaos Bourtiakas but also the abovementioned Giorgos Monastiriotis who was a professional soldier, and Thanasis Triaridis who declared reservist conscientious objector on ideological grounds in 2009, having served his military service in 1994-1995.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Giorgos Monastiriotis, who had joined the Greek Navy on a five-year contract, refused, citing conscientious reasons, to follow his unit in May 2003 when the frigate "Navarino" on which he was serving was sent to the Persian Gulf. He is the first greek professional soldier known to refuse to participate in the war in Iraq on the basis of his conscientious objection and to declare his resignation from the Navy for this reason. In his public refusal in May 2003, Monastiriotis had stated that: "I refuse on grounds of conscience to participate in or contribute by any means to the relentless massacre of the iraqi people... My refusal is also a minimal act of solidarity with the iraqi people as well as to the peaceful sentiments of the greek people." On 13 September 2004 he was arrested and sentenced to 40 months' imprisonment for desertion by the Naval Court of Piraeus. He was taken immediately to prison in Corinth where he remained imprisoned for 22 days until his temporary release pending his appeal hearing. On 17 January 2005 he was sentenced again by the Naval Court of Piraeus to 5 months' imprisonment for a second desertion charge, because he did not return to his unit after his release. He appealed and was released until his appeal trial, which never took place because law 3346/2005 cleared all sentences up to 6 months' imprisonment. On 15 March 2006 he was fired by the army. On 31 October 2006 he was sentenced by the Appeal Military Court of Athens to 24 months’ imprisonment suspended for 3 years for the first desertion charge. On 21 February 2008 he was sentenced again by the Naval Court of Piraeus to 10 months’ imprisonment suspended for 3 years for the third and last desertion charge, because he did not return to his unit after his second release. The appeal hearing for his last sentence will take place on 18 February 2010 before the Appeal Military Court of Athens.

Evangelos Mihalopoulos was called up for military service on 8 May 2007. He publicly refused to serve stating that “I refuse to hunt immigrants whose sole “crime” is that they are searching for a better tomorrow… As for your punitive “alternative service”, let’s discuss it when it becomes human. I serve the society every day because I want to do so and not because you force me…”. His trial for insubordination is set for 19 February 2010 before the Military Court of Athens.

The right to conscientious objection to military service is a legitimate exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, enshrined in the Greek Constitution (Articles 13 and 14) as well as in international human rights treaties to which Greece is a State Party, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 9).