A broad set of government measures continued to affect members of minority religious groups. Limitations on the construction and operation of religious buildings and cemeteries particularly affected Muslim groups. Jewish groups were concerned over continued anti-Semitic and racist statements and actions by GD members of parliament (MPs). The government passed legislation that suspends state funding to political parties, including GD, whose members are involved in criminal acts.
Through direct support from the government, the Orthodox Church continued to maintain an exclusive institutionalized link to the MOERA. Several other religious groups reported difficulties dealing with authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Some groups, such as the Jewish community and Jehovah’s Witnesses, requested treatment equal to that of the Orthodox Church with regard to legal status and financial support from the government. Leaders of non-Orthodox religious groups argued that taxes on their organizations were discriminatory because the government subsidized Orthodox Church activities and provided tax exemptions. The Catholic Church continued to seek government recognition of its canon law.
The MOERA issued 14 house-of-prayer permits to “known religions” and did not reject any applications for permits (at year’s end three were pending signature). Nevertheless, leaders of some religious groups stated that the system of house-of-prayer permits administratively constrained freedom of religion. They noted that under the existing legal framework, unregistered religious groups were illegal and therefore subject to government prosecution, although there were no reports of prosecutions.
On November 10, the Council of State rejected a petition requesting that all religious icons and symbols be removed from courtrooms.
Members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to be underrepresented in public sector employment and in state-owned industries and corporations. At year’s end three members of the Muslim minority from Thrace held seats in the 300-seat parliament. In Xanthi and Komotini, Muslims held seats on the prefectural and town councils and served as local mayors.
Some members of the Thrace Muslim minority continued to lobby for direct election of muftis by the community while retaining their judicial powers. The government maintained it had the right to appoint muftis because the government appointed all judges, and the muftis performed judicial sharia functions. Some Thrace Muslims accepted the authority of the government-appointed muftis, while others chose two unofficial muftis to serve their communities. The government did not recognize these two muftis, who did not have civil authority. Some Muslims also pressed for direct election of official imams.
In May the government issued a call for applications to fill 90 of 240 positions for Islamic religious instructors. The three government-appointed muftis of Xanthi, Komotini, and Didymoticho each presided over a five-member, all-Muslim selection committee representing each of the three prefectures of Thrace. In October the government hired 64 Islamic instructors for nine-month contracts and on October 15, issued a second call for applicants to fill the remaining 26 of the 90 positions.
In November the Supreme Court imposed sharia law and rejected civil law provisions in an estate case, apparently based on religion. The Muslim decedent had made a public will and testament in civil court leaving all his property to his wife. The Supreme Court ruled that, based on sharia law, the decedent’s sister could claim part of his real estate property, despite two prior court decisions to uphold the civil court will.
The National Human Rights Committee (an autonomous government advisory body), human rights organizations, and some media commentaries argued that the government should limit the powers of the muftis in Thrace to religious duties only. These observers stated that by recognizing and allowing the use of sharia law, the government restricted the civil rights of some citizens, especially women, in child custody, divorce, and inheritance cases. The ability of government courts to provide judicial oversight has been limited, however, by the lack of translation of most sharia law into Greek.
Construction of a government-funded mosque in Athens approved by the parliament in 2011 did not begin. The government secured 946,000 euros ($1.3 million) in funding and, following four unsuccessful calls for construction company bidders, accepted on November 14, a bid submitted by a consortium of four construction firms. The Council of State is expected to issue a decision in 2014 on an appeal submitted by local residents for the cancellation of the project. Muslim leaders in Athens criticized the absence of a government-funded mosque and the lack of recognized Muslim clergy in the city. Muslims in Athens worshipped in approximately 100 informal (unregistered) mosques but traveled to Thrace for official Islamic marriages and funerals. None of the informal mosques in Athens applied for a house-of-prayer permit.
In October, under orders from the office of the public prosecutor following complaints from local residents, police closed five unofficial mosques operated by members of the South Asian community and two Nigerian-run Protestant churches in the Athens district of Aghios Panteleimonas for operating without authorized house of prayer permits.
Under the authority of the secretary general for religions at the MOERA, the government continued to provide space free of charge to some groups of Muslims in Athens whose members had requested places of worship for Ramadan and other religious occasions. The secretary general and the minister of infrastructure, transportation, and networks underscored the right of Muslims to worship by publicly supporting the construction of the official Athens mosque.
Some Muslim leaders continued to express concern about the lack of Islamic cemeteries in Athens and Thessaloniki, stating that municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years contravened Islamic religious law. Muslims in Athens and other cities continued to travel to Thrace for Islamic burial of deceased relatives or had the remains repatriated.
Members of several religious groups repeated complaints about the lack of crematory facilities. A 2006 law permitted the establishment of crematory facilities, as did a 2011 presidential decree, but the government did not implement the decree due to objections by some Greek Orthodox Church officials to cremation and because of a perceived general lack of demand for cremation services.
On February 15, the Ministry of Education temporarily shut down 12 Muslim minority schools in Thrace, citing low enrollment.
On November 20, a bill was introduced with severe penalties for anyone who “incites violence” against a group or person on account of racism or xenophobia. This included denying the significance of the Holocaust, genocides, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and Nazi-era crimes. Parliament had yet to vote on the bill at year’s end.
The Greek Ombudsman for Human Rights submitted a report to Parliament in September listing 281 incidents of racist violence from January 2012 to April 2013. The incidents resulted in four homicides and 400 injuries, of which 71 were reportedly linked to GD members and 47 appeared to involve members of Greek security forces.
Eighteen members of GD, whose members are openly anti-Semitic and xenophobic, served in the national parliament. Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos publicly and repeatedly denied the Holocaust, often gave Nazi salutes at public events, and played a Greek version of “The Horst Wessel Song,” the official anthem of the Nazi party, over loudspeakers at a rally on July 24. Other GD members made statements, including in parliament, denying the Holocaust, asserting that a Jewish lobby was conspiring against Greece, and criticizing Greek citizens of Jewish heritage.
In June a major Jewish organization expressed concern over the appointment of the new health minister, due to his reported history of troubling remarks about Jews and his public promotion of an anti-Semitic book; the minister denied publicly that he was anti-Semitic.
On September 3, a judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by members of GD against Revolutionary Workers’ Party (EEK) Secretary General Savvas Michael-Matsas for “libelous defamation,” “incitement of violence and civil discord,” and “disturbing the peace,” for comments Michael-Matsas reportedly had made in 2009 critical of GD. Some right-wing blogs had targeted Michael-Matsas with anti-Semitic threats.
Following a September 17 murder committed by a GD member, the government launched criminal investigations into GD and its activities. In October, police arrested six GD MPs, including GD leader Michaloliakos, on charges of forming and operating a criminal organization. The GD leader and two of the MPs were detained pending trial, while the others were released pending trial, with restrictions. By the end of 2013, police had arrested at least 46 GD members, including two other GD MPs, on criminal charges, which included bribery, money laundering, and illegal gun possession. Following a request by an investigative magistrate, the parliament decided in October to lift immunity from prosecution from six GD MPs to face a myriad of criminal charges, two of whom were among the six GD MPs previously arrested. The government passed an amendment to suspend state funding to political parties whose members are involved in criminal acts. 235 of 300 MPs voted in favor of the amendment.
On December 9, authorities submitted new evidence related to GD actions to examining magistrates investigating the case against party members. The counter-terrorism squad confiscated computers belonging to GD MPs Ilias Kasidiaris, Giorgos Germenis, Yiannis Lagos, and Nikos Michaloliakos. Authorities found videos of new members swearing an induction oath to the organization, performing Nazi salutes, and stating, “I am Golden Dawn because we are rebels. Let’s kill the Jew hiding in all of us.” Other footage showed GD leader Michaloliakos stating, “They say that we are the evil fascists and nationalists. The truth is that they are right.”
Two 2012 cases in which the government invoked the law against blasphemy remained open with no trial date set at year’s end. In September 2012, the cyber-crime police had arrested a 27-year-old man and charged him with blasphemy and insulting religion for setting up a Facebook page using a name that played on the name of a legendary Mount Athos monk. In November 2012 the Metropolitan of Piraeus had filed a blasphemy complaint against the director and actors of the theatrical play “Corpus Christi,” which portrayed Jesus and the Apostles as gay men.
In February and May members of the Bible Baptist Church of Thessaloniki and Zakynthos island said that members of the church had been harassed by Thessaloniki police officers. They stated that the officers arbitrarily had detained them in police stations for documentation checks, had accused them of proselytizing, and had mocked and verbally abused them with threats and intimidation. Police stated that they had responded to noise complaints from nearby business owners.
Some religious groups stated the discrepancy between the length of mandatory service for conscientious objectors and for those in the military was discriminatory. On October 4, the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) presented its annual report in Athens instead of the European Parliament in Brussels due to what EBCO said were “rising concerns about the unacceptable treatment of conscientious objectors in Greece which continues to be in violation of international human rights standards and the political guidelines of the European Union.” EBCO documented three cases in which the government had arrested and prosecuted conscientious objectors for not completing mandatory military service, despite previously serving prison time, paying fines, or exceeding the age limit for service. EBCO criticized the imposition of administrative fines of 6,000 euros ($8,264) and the use of military courts in these trials.
The government publicly condemned some anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents.
In commemoration of the UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27, the local government and the Jewish community of Thessaloniki held a remembrance event at the Holocaust monument in Eleftherias Square in Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki Mayor Boutaris reaffirmed his 2012 announcement that the city will convert the square into a memorial park honoring the diverse history of Thessaloniki.
For the first time, the Municipality and the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki held a series of events in March commemorating the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the deportation of the Jews of Thessaloniki to concentration camps. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras spoke at the commemoration, condemning the rise of neo-fascist forces and stating that his government was prepared to use all means, including legislation, to combat racism and anti-Semitism.