Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. On March 11, local media reported a court sentenced a blogger in Veroia, northern Greece, to 18 months in prison and a fine of 5,500 euros ($6,325) for inciting hatred toward Syrian refugees residing in a local reception camp. In 2016 the blogger had falsely claimed, “Illegal migrants buried a small church inside the camp so as not to be insulted [by seeing it].”
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least seven instances. Several attacks were led by members of far-right groups. In some instances, police arrested the perpetrators.
On June 19, a group of ultrarightists attacked a photojournalist in Athens, according to the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESHEA). Unidentified perpetrators also stole his camera equipment. ESHEA claimed police present at the scene did not attempt to prevent the attack or to arrest the attackers.
On June 1, a Chios court sentenced a local Golden Dawn party member to six months in prison and a 2,000 euros ($2,300) fine for attacking a journalist in September 2017. The attack took place while the journalist was covering a protest rally against refugees and migrants on the island. In a separate case, a court sentenced the same perpetrator to 18 months in prison for instigating racially motivated violence against refugees.
A bomb caused extensive damage to private television station SKAI in Athens early December 17, but no injuries. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras immediately condemned the bombing, calling it “an attack by cowardly and dark forces against democracy itself;” however, SKAI Media Group President Yannis Alafouzos blamed the government coalition for inspiring the attack through threats and boycotts. Police launched an investigation, but had not made any arrests as of December 18.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register of local websites’ legal status, number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and the tax office they fall under. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites had to display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. On February 26, police arrested and briefly detained journalist and publisher Kostas Vaxevanis following a lawsuit filed by former prime minister Antonis Samaras, who accused Vaxevanis of defamation. A week earlier the journalist had accused Samaras on social media of lying about his alleged involvement in a scandal concerning Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis’s alleged bribes to medical doctors and politicians.
On September 22, police detained three journalists after Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos accused them of defamation. The journalists had published an article accusing Kammenos of large-scale mismanagement of European Union migration funds. The following morning the public prosecutor ordered a preliminary investigation into the incident and the immediate release of the three journalists. No further information on the case was available as of November 30.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private citizens’ online communications without appropriate legal authority.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In February, two Orthodox Metropolitans filed separate lawsuits requesting the theatrical performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” be banned for blasphemy. The theater company continued to stage performances despite daily and at times violent demonstrations outside the theater by individuals opposed to the production. Actors and staff criticized authorities for failing to adequately protect their lives and property, reporting that protestors threatened “to burn down the theater,” assaulted actors and audience members, and threw paint on staff cars and the theater, but no arrests were made.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.
On July 12, the Thrace appeals court rejected a request from the unofficial “Turkish Union of Xanthi” to reinstate its legal status. The association submitted this petition following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Greek court’s decision violated the right of association as protected by the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and a 2017 law allowing the reexamination of such previously rejected requests.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to a wide range of credible sources, including international organizations and NGOs, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those residing in RICs. The RVRN recorded 34 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2017. (See also section 6, “National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.”)
Separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites. Credible reports described several incidents of violence involving asylum seekers, including fistfights, stabbings, and gender-based violence. The International Rescue Committee assessed that more than 70 individuals were sexually abused at the RIC in Moria from March to October. Several incidents of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, were also recorded in organized facilities on the mainland. Doctors without Borders reported that two victims of sexual abuse in the Moria RIC were under five years of age.
Media reported on April 28 that police arrested a refugee residing at a reception facility in Serres, northern Greece, after his 15-year-old daughter accused him of repeated rape.
On November 9, authorities arrested a male refugee in Agia Eleni camp in northern Greece on charges of sexually abusing a three-year-old boy inside the camp.
Refugee and migrant women who were victims of gender-based violence were legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance but few of them reported the abuse. Some NGO representatives said that even after victims reported rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp with the perpetrators.
NGOs noted inadequate psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs. Doctors without Borders reported that 25 percent of the children they worked with in Moria RIC on Lesvos island from February to June had either self-harmed, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
During the year the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued. As of October 31, UNHCR figures indicated 67,100 migrants and asylum seekers resided throughout the country.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In February the NGO Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) published a compilation of testimonies of migrants and refugees who claimed they had been forcibly returned to Turkey despite their desire to claim asylum. On February 25, a GCR lawyer and coordinator of the GCR legal team who had previously served as secretary general for migration argued in an opinion article in a local newspaper that allegations of refoulement were not being properly investigated despite appeals by UNHCR, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, and other organizations. On May 3, GCR accused the government “of a systematic tactic of irregular forced returns in the Evros region, in violation of international law.” Government officials denied any authorized unlawful returns.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration Policy. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.
Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights and asylum procedures and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR also assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.
On July 18, media reported the case of a Guinean national who was deported prior to having the chance to appeal the initial denial of asylum. His attorneys claimed that even though they communicated the applicant’s intent to file an appeal, authorities deported the applicant without prior notification. The government did not issue a public response.
Human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants reported long waits for asylum appeals decisions due to time-consuming processes, gaps in the payment of certified interpreters, backlogs in the appeals process, and a limited number of appeals committees. On May 22, parliament passed new legislation to accelerate the examination of asylum requests by reducing gaps in interpreter payments and introducing additional and more flexible means of communication between applicants and authorities. Despite changes in the law, structural problems in the asylum process continued to exist.
Asylum applicants from countries other than Syria complained that their asylum applications were delayed while Syrian applications were prioritized. Many asylum seekers also complained about difficulty scheduling an appointment and connecting with the Asylum Service system via Skype. NGOs, international organizations, and human rights activists reiterated concerns related to the asylum system, including the lack of adequate staff and facilities; difficulties in registering claims; questions about the expedited nature and thoroughness of the examination of initial claims and appeals; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; and detention under often inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the RICs.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.
According to a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to an RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey under the terms of the agreement.
Freedom of Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures, and were not allowed to leave accommodation centers for up to 25 days. After this period undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities or were deemed “vulnerable.” Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland, space permitting. There was no restriction on movement in or out of the mainland accommodation centers.
On April 24, 21 local and international NGOs issued a statement condemning the government’s practice of confining migrants and asylum seekers to certain “hotspot” islands for initial processing.
Unaccompanied minors were placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)
Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. In March the managing board of the Greek Manpower Organization (OAED) extended the right to register for the official unemployment to migrants and refugees residing in shelters or with no permanent address, allowing them to benefit from training programs and state allowances.
Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures were granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit; however, staffing gaps, lack of interpreters, and overcrowded migrant sites limited certain asylum seekers’ access to these services. Legal assistance was limited and was usually offered via NGOs, international organizations, and volunteer lawyers and bar associations.
RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded with inadequate shelter, healthcare, wash facilities, and sewer connections, creating security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better. The general rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons visited Athens, Kavala, Drama, and Lesvos from July 10-12. The rapporteur found that in contrast to the acceptable accommodation centers in Kavala and Drama, Lesvos RIC conditions “continued to be appalling,” with persons suffering from “severely overcrowded accommodation facilities.”
Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)
Many vulnerable asylum-seeking individuals were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via a housing framework implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities.
Administrative and facility management staff in reception centers were usually permanent state employees, eight-month government-contracted personnel, and NGO and international organization-contracted staff. Media reported cases, especially in the islands, in which assigned staff was inadequate or improperly trained.
Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers, referring emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases continued to face problems with obtaining proper medication. According to a July 27 HRW report, pregnant women in Evros reception and detention facilities had no access to proper medical and prenatal care.
Domestic and international NGOs continued to criticize authorities for failing to identify asylum seekers with nonvisible vulnerabilities, such as victims of torture. In a 2018 annual review, HRW noted that authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland had “impeded their access to proper care and services.” HRW argued that official policies, living conditions, and the uncertainty of the slow asylum claim decision-making process contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands.
Durable Solutions: Recognized refugees may apply for naturalization after three years of residence in the country under this status. The government continued to process family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.
Temporary Protection: As of June 30, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,102 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by penalties ranging from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of their sex. Domestic violence is a crime with penalties from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively. In November 2017 the president of the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine told media that only 200 of an estimated average of 4,500 rape incidents per year were officially reported. Police reported they had identified the perpetrators in 73 percent of cases of rape and attempted rape recorded in 2017, the most recent year with complete records available.
The government and NGOs made medical, psychological, social, and legal support available to rape survivors.
On April 4, the government passed legislation ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Under the same law, the government abolished the provision of the Penal Code that had allowed men convicted of statutory rape of a minor under 15 to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.
The Hellenic Coast Guard found the body of 21-year-old college student Eleni Topaloudi in the sea near the island of Rhodes on November 28. Coast Guard officials told media that evidence suggested Topaloudi was physically and sexually assaulted before she died from drowning. Police arrested two men on December 4 on charges of gang raping and murdering Topaloudi. The men remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): On April 4, new legislation added provisions to the Penal Code stipulating punishment for individuals who coerce or force female individuals to undergo genital mutilation. Perpetrators of female genital mutilation face mandatory prison sentences under the new law.
Although there were allegations of migrant and refugee women residing in the country undergoing female genital mutilation prior to their arrival in Greece, there was no concrete evidence that female genital mutilation was practiced in the country.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides penalties ranging from two months to five years in prison. In its 2017 report on gender and equality, the ombudsman reiterated previous findings about the difficulty in substantiating sexual harassment claims due to lack of evidence, victims’ fear of repercussions of reporting cases, and the reluctance of witnesses to take sides. The report notes that many incidents of sexual harassment are not reported to the ombudsman. In his reports from previous years, the ombudsman had also noted the absence of a policy against sexual harassment in most private and public workplaces, emphasizing that employers were often ignorant of their legal obligations when employees filed sexual harassment complaints.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equality between women and men. The government effectively enforced the laws promoting gender equality, which provided for women to enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, with some exceptions when Muslim minority members in Thrace request the use of sharia by notarized consent of both parties. (See also National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.)
According to a survey released on March 8 by a private company, the percentage of women holding executive positions in the country increased to 26 percent in 2017 from 20 percent in 2016. The government failed to provide data on the gender pay gap, as reported by Eurostat on March 8. Based on 2014 data, the last year that the government provided relevant statistics, local women were paid an average of 12.5 percent less than men.
On May 2, Eurostat reported that 17 percent of men and 26 percent of women were unemployed in January.
On March 8, the minister for labor, social insurance, and social solidarity announced the government would no longer reveal the gender of unemployed individuals they recommend for job vacancies to avoid gender bias in hiring decisions. The government also decided to allow female victims of domestic violence residing in special shelters or lacking permanent residence to register for unemployment benefits, including training programs and state allowances.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows belated birth registration but imposes a fine.
Child Abuse: Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, street, and Romani children, remained a problem. On July 11, the NGO “Smile of the Child” reported having received 497 reports of serious cases of abuse related to 854 children through its helpline “SOS 1056” from January 1 to June 30. Of these children, 40 percent were less than six years of age. The law prohibits corporal punishment and mistreatment of children, but government enforcement was generally ineffective. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children in addition to foster care or accommodation in shelters. Government-run institutions were understaffed, however, and NGOs reported insufficient space, including for unaccompanied minors who by law are entitled to special protection and should be housed in special shelters.
On May 15, the government passed new legislation allowing foster care and adoption procedures to be completed in under a year, making these a viable option for children in urgent need of protection.
On July 13, local NGO ELIZA launched a program to train 450 police staff members on child abuse and proper registration of child abuse-related complaints.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, although minors ages 16 and 17 may marry with authorization from a prosecutor. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported that illegal child marriage was common in Romani communities, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17, or even younger, and Romani boys marrying between the ages of 15 and 20. Based on 2000-16 data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, 9,407 minors were married during that period, 86 percent of whom were girls averaging 16 years of age.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children under the age of 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and imposes penalties if the crime was committed using technology in the country. Authorities generally enforced the law.
Displaced Children: According to EKKA data from November 1, there were approximately 3,558 refugee and migrant unaccompanied children residing in the country. Local and international NGOs attested that unaccompanied minors were not always properly registered, at times lacked safe accommodations or legal guardians, and were vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation, including survival sex. EKKA statistics indicated that 451 unaccompanied minors were homeless and 275 could not be located.
On July 17, parliament passed new legislation requiring an individual “legal guardian” for each unaccompanied minor. The legislation allowed older unaccompanied minors to reside in units of semi-autonomous living, established a special body entrusted with the protection of minors and the monitoring of guardianship in each prosecution office, created a special directorate for the protection of unaccompanied minors in the national government, established a registry of certified guardians who meet certain criteria, established a registry of unaccompanied minors, and created a registry of shelters/facilities for unaccompanied minors.
Institutionalized Children: Local and international organizations condemned the use of protective custody for unaccompanied minors for prolonged periods, often in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, resulting from a lack of available spaces in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish community included approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. Vandalism of Holocaust monuments and memorials around the country, particularly in the city of Thessaloniki, took place throughout the year. The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) continued to express concern about anti-Semitic comments by some journalists in mainstream media and by some religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Church clerics. KIS reiterated concern about political cartoons and images in mainstream media mocking political controversies through the use of Jewish sacred symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust or through equating Jews and Nazis.
Thousands of protesters participated in a massive rally in Thessaloniki on January 21 against the country’s negotiations with Macedonia on the name issue. Mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris was absent from this rally, which led to insults and posters subsequently put up around the city calling Boutaris a “closet Jew!”
On January 22, NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) filed a judicial complaint against local governments, Orthodox priests, and media for propagating the custom of the “burning of Judas” during Orthodox Easter celebrations. GHM listed 69 different cities, parishes, and media outlets that organized and advertised this custom, which was repeatedly criticized by KIS for perpetuating anti-Semitism and officially denounced by the Orthodox Church. No outcome of this complaint was publicized by year’s end.
On March 10, police arrested four of the seven alleged members of the extreme-right group “Combat 18 Hellas.” The criminal group was accused of involvement in explosions, arson attacks, and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. A trial had not begun by year’s end.
On April 27, a Thessaloniki misdemeanor court sentenced unofficial mufti of Xanthi Ahmet Mete to eight months in prison for making racist and anti-Semitic comments. In a 2014 speech, Mete stated that, “Our brothers suffer in Gaza, because of Israel. Curse on Israel. They were turned into soap by the Germans, and Hitler was right when he said that you might get mad at me now [for annihilating the Jews] but one day I will be vindicated for [what I did to] the Jews.” On May 6, despite his recent conviction, Mete gave a public address in which he accused Jews of being “murderers of infants,” and told followers that religion requires Muslims who see “an evil action [to] change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot, then hate him with his heart.”
On May 4, unknown vandals destroyed nine marble stones in the Jewish section of a historic Athens cemetery. President of the Athens Jewish Community Minos Moissis called the destruction “the most severe incident [of anti-Semitism] in Athens in the past 15 years.” The mayor of Athens, the secretary generals for religious affairs and human rights, and all mainstream political parties condemned the vandalism and participated in a ceremony of solidarity with the Jewish community in the cemetery. Moissis told the press that police immediately gathered evidence and filed charges.
In a June 8 interview, Mayor of Argos-Mycenae Dimitris Kamposos criticized Boutaris for his position on certain domestic issues. Mayor Kampossos said that Boutaris gets away with supporting LGBT rights because “he is liked by the Jews,” and added “we, on the other hand, cannot say what we want because we have never worn the kippah.” Kamposos was expelled from the New Democracy party and the party spokesman said it would “not tolerate any bigoted and dividing speech by any party officials.”
On July 11, unknown perpetrators desecrated and threw paint on a monument marking the site of the former Jewish cemetery inside the Aristotle University campus in Thessaloniki. The university, government officials, and opposition party members denounced the act. There were at least five other similar examples of vandalism targeting Jewish monuments.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services such as special education. NGOs and organizations for disability rights reported that government enforcement of these provisions was inconsistent. There were no reported instances of police or other government officials inciting, perpetuating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities. Most children with disabilities had the option of attending mainstream or specialized schools, unless their disability was so significant they could not function in a mainstream classroom.
According to the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the dropout rate for students with disabilities was 30 percent. Only about 59 percent of disabled students were able to finish middle school.
Persons with disabilities, including children, continued to have poor access to public buildings, transportation, and public areas, which the law mandates they should have, particularly to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and public transportation vehicles. While the law allows service animals to accompany blind individuals in all mass transit and eating establishments, blind activists maintained that they occasionally faced difficulties accessing public transportation, places, and services. On May 9, the president of the Association of Paraplegic Individuals stated to media that national railway employees prohibited him from traveling by train in his electric wheelchair and he was only able to travel after referring his concerns to the deputy minister of transport. On March 1, the legal representative of an association of families with autistic members reported on social media that after an institution near Piraeus port closed, about 30 autistic residents were transferred to another facility, which was unsafe and equipped with inadequate staff. Association members uploaded photos of the residents in restraints. On March 3, the same legal representative also told media that one resident died from a lung infection associated with stress after the transfer. Government officials publicly committed to improve conditions after his death; no further information was available at year’s end.
In his 2017 antidiscrimination report, the ombudsman described helping a totally blind individual obtain a handicapped parking pass for his vehicle, driven by his wife. Although the law does not explicitly provide handicapped parking spaces for blind individuals, the ombudsman intervened with municipal authorities to help them provide the parking pass under other statutes and to help them design regulations to govern similar requests.
On January 8 and February 28, the government launched new special education facilities in two separate locations around Athens; a special education primary and nursery school and a special education vocational school. On May 11, the deputy minister for education, research, and religions reported that 23 new special education schools had been established around the country. On July 18, the parliament passed legislation allowing third country nationals who hold residence permits on humanitarian grounds to receive disability allowances.
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minorities, Roma and members of other minority groups continued to face discrimination.
Although the government recognized an individual’s right to self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. A number of citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites, or Macedonians. Some members of these groups unsuccessfully sought official government identification as ethnic or linguistic minorities. Courts routinely rejected registration claims filed by associations in Thrace with titles including the terms Turk and Turkish when based on ethnicity grounds, although individuals may legally call themselves Turks, and associations using those terms were not prohibited from operating. Government officials and courts denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian in identifying themselves, stating that more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also used the term Macedonian in their self-identification.
The government officially recognized a Muslim minority, as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, consisting of approximately 100,000-120,000 persons descended from Muslims residing in Thrace at the time of the treaty’s signature and including ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks and Roma claimed that ethnically Turkish members of the Muslim minority pressured them to deny the Pomak and Roma ethnicities were distinct from Turkish and provided monetary incentives to encourage them to say they were ethnically Turkish. The government operated 148 primary schools and two secondary schools in the Thrace region that provided secondary bilingual education for minority children in Greek and Turkish. The government also operated two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Some representatives of the Muslim minority said these facilities were inadequate to cover their needs.
Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police and alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling. On May 3, opposition MP Thanassis Davakis stated while addressing an audience in Sparta, “I plea and forbid any Gypsy and the rest of them to vote for me, whatever the political cost… Whoever from this social group votes for me, I won’t recognize them… I am sorry to say that, I am sorry for the little children born to these people without being asked to and for the situation the children find themselves in.” Davakis later apologized.
Poor school attendance, illiteracy, and high dropout rates among Romani children remained problems. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools.
In cooperation with local authorities, the government announced on April 25 plans to assist Roma campers in moving to organized temporary living quarters, beginning with 45 Roma families residing in the Delphi area.
The Hellenic Police’s “Center for Security Studies” continued to implement a two-year program funded by the European Commission for the co-training of 378 police staff members with Romani cultural mediators aimed at countering mutual stereotypes and fighting Romani social exclusion.
RVRN documented 34 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2017. Fourteen of these incidents were reported to police.
Local media and NGOs reported race- and hate-motivated attacks on migrants by far-right groups, including alleged supporters of Golden Dawn (GD), whose members of parliament publicly expressed anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views. The trial of 69 GD members, including 18 current and former members of parliament, continued. They were charged with weapons crimes and operating a criminal enterprise.
On March 23, right-wing extremist group Krypteia claimed responsibility for a March 22 arson attack on an Afghan community center in central Athens that caused significant damage but no injuries. According to press reports, assailants poured flammable liquid on the door of the community center and flames spread inside, damaging desks, tables, and computers. UNHCR condemned the attack, commenting that the center had been full of persons, including children, not long before the attack and called for steps to protect refugees and migrants. On April 2, the secretary general for human rights asked the Supreme Court head prosecutor to investigate the case.
On June 6, in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Ministry of Justice held a workshop on “Building a Comprehensive Criminal Justice Response to Hate Crime.” During the workshop, authorities signed an agreement for interagency cooperation on these issues, including the establishment of a national hate crime database and continued capacity building for prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
On October 16, the Supreme Court prosecutor ordered a special investigation to determine whether a fire in June at a makeshift migrant workers’ camp in the agricultural area of Manolada was motivated by racism.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons when seeking housing, employment, naturalization, and government services such as health care. The government enforced antidiscrimination laws, which include sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. Offices combatting racist and hate crimes include crimes targeting LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in their mandates. LGBTI activists alleged that authorities were not always motivated to investigate incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals and that victims were hesitant to report such incidents to the authorities due to lack of trust. Violence against LGBTI individuals remained a problem, and societal discrimination and harassment were widespread despite advances in the legal framework protecting such individuals. LGBTI refugees and migrants reported incidents of rape, physical violence, and discrimination perpetrated by other refugees and migrants, and reported that authorities and NGOs did not adequately investigate these crimes.
RVRN reported in 2017 “the assaults recorded against LGBTI persons outnumbered all other types of assault but had decreased slightly.” RVRN did not record any incidents involving severe physical violence but only incidents of milder forms of violence and instances of repeated violence against the same individuals, including verbal abuse and personal injuries. RVRN reiterated observations from recent years about a firm tendency of perpetrators to target LGBTI activists and about the LGBTI community’s lack of trust in police. RVRN also noted an upward trend of cyber and social media attacks on individuals due to their LGBTI status. In 2017 RVRN recorded 29 incidents of attacks based on sexual orientation and another 18 based on gender identity. Five of these incidents resulted in injuries. According to RVRN organizations, only six of these 47 incidents were reported to police.
On September 21, a well-known LGBTI activist was beaten and killed in downtown Athens. On October 16, the Supreme Court prosecutor ordered an investigation and charged the two men who initiated the violence with grievous bodily harm. In December, after the final autopsy, four police officers accused of beating the activist while he was lying on the pavement to be handcuffed were charged with inflicting fatal bodily harm that resulted in the activist’s death.
On June 6, the NGO “Transgender Support Association” (SYD) issued a press statement denouncing the exclusion of transgender individuals from the police cadet recruitment process based on the assertion that they suffer from psychosexual disorders. SYD urged the Ministry of Interior and Hellenic Police to remove this exclusion because it violated the equal treatment law and stigmatized and offended transgender individuals.
On May 22, media reported on research findings from LGBTI rights advocacy youth group “Color Youth.” Color Youth conducted a survey among students to assess the prevalence of homophobia in schools, which found that about 85 percent of surveyed students attached a negative connotation to the word “gay;” 96 percent said they had heard comments about students not acting “in a manly way;” and approximately 75 percent said they had heard transphobic comments. Overall, one in three students said they have experienced some form of verbal harassment related to their perceived gender identity.
Unmarried transgender individuals over the age of 15 may update identity documents to reflect their gender identity without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. The law requires that a judge validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance. On June 4, SYD issued a press statement that judicial officials often failed to properly apply this law; SYD alleged that judges did not always secure the necessary privacy for the hearing and often used derogatory language and employed an intimidating stance toward transgender individuals and their lawyers.
On June 26, media reported that a civil court in Thessaloniki accepted a refugee transgender woman’s request that her asylum papers and residence permit reflect her gender identity. The Hellenic League for Human Rights, an NGO that supported the applicant in filing her claim with the court, called this a “pioneer decision” given the fact that the 2017 law did not openly grant this right to transgender individuals whose birth was not registered in the country.
The 14th Athens Pride Parade took place in June without incident. At the start of the seventh annual LGBTI Pride parade in Thessaloniki, two gay men were pushed into the sea. Six days later, media reported that police had launched an investigation into the incident. Twenty-two locally based Christian associations announced that they would boycott businesses sponsoring the Thessaloniki Pride event.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of HIV-positive individuals, societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Persons with HIV/AIDS were exempt from serving in the armed forces on medical grounds. A presidential decree authorizes the dismissal of professional military staff members if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of military staff dismissals under this provision. There were also no reports of employment discrimination in the private or civil service sectors on the grounds of HIV/AIDS during the year. In 2017 a court in Athens ruled there was no obligation for HIV-positive individuals with a low viral load to disclose their condition, provided they followed their treatment plans and took precautionary measures. The court acquitted an HIV-positive male accused by his female partner of intentionally trying to transmit the disease to her by not revealing his medical condition.