Violence erupts at rally in Greece against new protest law. (Image: AP News)
Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights lays down the right to ‘freedom of peaceful assembly’ which includes the right to a peaceful protest. This right is essential at times when people are having concerns over important issues and wishing to express them. At the time of the pandemic the Greek nationals used their voice to address issues like unlawful use of force by police, gender-based violence and the significant problems in Greece’s public health system hit by many years of austerity policies.
The Covid-19 pandemic can be a legitimate reason to curb the right to peaceful assembly, as well as any relative right, as long as it is subjected to strict criteria, meet the principle of necessity and proportionality and is assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, according to Amnesty International’s recent research, the Greek authorities have been treating the Covid-19 pandemic as a carte blanche to justify them violating the fundamental right to peaceful assembly by using unlawful force to make an end to the peaceful protests, arbitrarily arresting protesters, giving them unjustified fines and banning blankets. The authorities’ solutions sounded quite paradoxical as they were detaining peaceful protestors based on the Covid restrictions, putting them all together in enclosed spaces with an even higher risk of transmission. Some of the restrictions on the right to assembly, like complete prohibition when not following the notification requirements and camera surveillance by the police, were even codified.
According to the interviewees, the police however has been using unnecessary and excessive force, like water cannons or chemical irritants, and sexist and abusive language all in an attempt to disperse these peaceful protests. Some of the protesters were even hit with batons on the head and stun grenades were used in a way it could cause serious hearing problems. After being arrested and detained, interviewees have also witnessed some serious ill-treatment and even torture practices.
Most worrying, is that the Riot Police accordingly identify themselves as being members of the far-right Golden Dwan party, known for its strong liaisons to criminal organizations. The riot police often used this membership as a threat to the protesters, throwing them on the ground and using extreme violence like processes of non-stop beating.
The Greek authorities must put an end to the criminalization of peaceful protesting immediately and annul any of the fines given to peaceful protesters, lawyers and women’s rights activists and those other individuals who were arbitrarily arrested prior and during the November and December 2020 demonstrations. Any charges against them for allegedly breaching public health rules must be dropped and prompt and thorough investigations must also be conducted into all the cases of human rights violations Amnesty International has documented,” Kondylia Gogou, Greece researcher at Amnesty International said.
Source: News: ‘Greece: Authorities abusing power to trample on right to protest’, Amnesty International 2021.