c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports, however, that police mistreated and abused members of racial and ethnic minority groups, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, demonstrators, and Roma (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees, and section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).
Most reports alleged abusive treatment of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in preremoval centers by law enforcement authorities, violence against migrants and asylum seekers during pushback operations at Greece-Turkey land and sea borders, and mistreatment of inmates in detention centers. There were several reported abuses similar to the following examples. According to media reports, on January 30, the Hellenic Police Internal Affairs Division launched an investigation into allegations of violence by police officers against a group of migrants held at the preremoval center in Drama. Police officers allegedly stormed into the cells of detainees, beating them with batons. The violence was reportedly prompted by a protest by some of the inmates against an extension of their detention beyond 18 months.
In a November 2020 report on its ad hoc visit to migrant detention and preremoval centers in the country, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that, while the vast majority of migrants it interviewed had not been physically mistreated by authorities when they were apprehended and detained, the CPT’s delegation received a number of reports by migrants that they have been subjected to slaps on the head, kicks, and truncheon blows by members of the Hellenic Police and Coast Guard. For example, one person held by Hellenic Police at the former Special Missions Unit of the Hellenic Coast Guard at Samos alleged he was struck across the left side of his head with a baton by a police office after asking to be let out of the cell to go to the toilet, resulting in partial deafness.
In its November 2020 report, the CPT reported that detained migrants were sometimes confined in squalid conditions. In two cells under the authority of the Hellenic Police at the Port of Samos, for example, the CPT found 93 migrants (58 men, 15 women, three of whom were pregnant, and 20 children, 10 of whom were younger than age five) crammed into space that provided each person with less than 10 square feet of living space. Access to natural light was limited, there was no artificial light, no heating, no beds, no mattresses, and unpartitioned in-cell toilets emitted a foul stench. Women were given wet wipes but were not provided any other hygiene products. The CPT report stated, “These conditions clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. The fact that authorities continued to hold this group, many of whom were clearly vulnerable, for 18 days without any efforts to lessen the harshness of their situation could be considered an inhuman punishment.”
On June 22, media outlets reported that a Georgian national arrested on suspicion of homicide stated he was interrogated and badly beaten for four days to force a confession for a crime another individual was later identified and prosecuted for committing. On March 9, the Office of the Greek Ombudsman, an independent constitutionally sanctioned authority, stated cases of police violence in 2020 increased by 75 percent and that the number recommended for investigation rose by 25 percent.
The most recent prison and detention center monitoring visit by the CPT took place in 2019. In its 2020 report on the visit, the CPT expressed deep concern that police mistreatment, especially against foreign nationals and members of the Romani community, remained a frequent practice throughout the country and that the system for investigating allegations of police mistreatment could not be considered effective. The report stated that, during the visit, the CPT received a high number of credible allegations of excessive use of force, unduly tight handcuffing, and physical and psychological mistreatment of criminal suspects during or in the context of police interviews. Alleged mistreatment consisted mainly of slaps, punches, and kicks as well as blows to the head with truncheons and metal objects. The CPT also received some allegations of blows with a stick to the soles of the feet and the application of a plastic bag over the head during police interviews, reportedly with the aim of obtaining a confession and a signed statement.
Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights organizations reiterated complaints of a lack of an independent government entity to investigate violence and other alleged abuses at the border by the Coast Guard and border patrol forces. The National Commission for Human Rights reported that in 2020 police investigated only two pushback abuse cases and no cases were prosecuted and tried. The commission recommended the establishment of “an official independent mechanism to record and monitor informal pushback complaints.”
In the report on its 2019 visit, the CPT stated that its findings “confirm that investigations are still not carried out promptly or expeditiously and often lack thoroughness. Consequently, most cases of alleged police ill-treatment are not criminally prosecuted and very few result in criminal sentences or even disciplinary sanction.” As an example, the CPT noted that none of the 21 outstanding cases of alleged serious police mistreatment made by the police Internal Affairs Directorate in April 2014 had resulted in successful prosecution.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center deficiencies included overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and access to health care, and inadequate provision of basic supplies. Inmates alleged police mistreatment and physical and verbal abuse (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).
Physical Conditions: Government statistics issued in September indicated the prison population exceeded holding capacity. Nationwide, prisons were built to accommodate 10,175 inmates, but prisons held 11,131 inmates. For example, facilities in the cities of Tripoli, Ioannina, and Volos exceeded capacity by 217 percent, 198 percent, and 195 percent respectively.
Violent incidents among detainees in prison facilities continued to decline. From January to October, one death and approximately 10 injuries were recorded. Authorities conducted regular and extraordinary inspections for drugs and improvised weaponry.
Inmates continued to complain that government COVID-19 pandemic protection measures were not always sufficient, with congested conditions and a lack of access to medical care and medication. Prison authorities vaccinated inmates for COVID-19, but no data were available regarding the number vaccinated.
On April 28, Secretary General of Special Guards Stratos Mavroidakos denounced police detention center conditions across the country as “inhumane.” According to Mavroidakos, individuals were detained for as long as three months in holding cells and in basements, with a lack of basic sanitation supplies. On July 1, members of parliament (MPs) visited Patras Prison. The prison population of 700 exceeded capacity by 300 inmates. The MPs stated that the prison lacked a full-time physician, enough trained guards, and adequate kitchen facilities.
Police detained undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in reception and identification centers (RICs) on five islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos) and one on the mainland in Evros until the individuals were identified and registered. Some detained migrants alleged physical abuse by members of the Hellenic Police and Coast Guard or were held in conditions that could be considered inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment (see subsection on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, above).
On June 9, General Director of the NGO Doctors Without Borders Christina Psarra described the RICs on Lesvos and Samos as “totally inadequate living spaces.” The NGO Greek Council for Refugees reported that in many cases detention conditions in the preremoval centers failed to meet adequate standards due to their prison-like design and that “police stations and other police facilities, unsuitable for detention of more than 24 hours, continued to fall short of basic standards.”
Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. The Ministry of Citizen Protection, through the Secretariat General for Anticrime Policy, published bimonthly detention-related statistics on the occupancy rate and the design capacity per prison.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent nongovernmental observers to monitor prison and detention center conditions. Authorities required NGOs, diplomatic missions, and foreign and domestic journalists to submit formal requests in advance for each visit to RICs and official migrant and asylum seeker camps. During most of the year, special COVID-19 pandemic restrictive measures prevented access to RICs and to other refugee and migrant accommodation facilities.
Improvements: Construction of two 120-cell wings in the Nigrita prison facility reduced overcrowding.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Both the constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and give any person the right to challenge the lawfulness of an arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements. The ombudsman, through the National Preventive Mechanism for the Investigation of Arbitrary Incidents, received 263 complaints in 2020, most of which related to police. According to the Office of the Greek Ombudsman, more than one-half of complaints reported abusive behavior taking place during arrests, detentions, and other police operations. In many cases victims of police abuse were minors, young persons, refugees, and foreigners. The ombudsman noted delays by law enforcement authorities in launching disciplinary investigations of police conduct and sending forensic reports and video footage for the ombudsman’s assessment; however, the ombudsman noted that in most cases authorities cooperated.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and requires judicial warrants for arrests, except during the commission of a crime. Detainees are promptly informed of the charges against them at their first court appearance. The law requires police to bring detainees before a magistrate, who must issue a detention warrant or order the detainee’s release within 24 hours. By law pretrial detention may last up to 18 months, depending on the severity of the crime, or up to 30 months in exceptional circumstances. A panel of judges may release detainees pending trial; there is a functioning bail system and other options for release pending trial. Individuals are entitled to state compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. There were no reports that police violated these laws. Detainees may contact a close relative or third party and consult with a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state. The law provides for the latter right after a person is formally charged with a criminal offense rather than from the outset of custody. In its 2020 report on conditions of detention, the CPT reported complaints from individuals who stated they were not allowed while in custody to promptly notify a relative or a lawyer during the initial period of detention, particularly before or during questioning by police, when the risk of intimidation and mistreatment was greatest. The CPT noted that individuals who lacked financial means often met a lawyer only during their bail hearing.
Rights activists and media reported instances in which foreign detainees had limited access to court-provided interpretation or were unaware of their right to legal assistance. In a November 2020 report on detention centers for migrants, the CPT stated it received many complaints from foreign detainees that they had not been informed of their rights in a language they understood or had signed documents in the Greek language without knowing their content and without assistance from an interpreter. Indigent defendants facing felony charges received legal representation from the bar association. NGOs and international organizations provided limited legal aid to detained migrants and asylum seekers.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention. For example, on July 14, Amnesty International stated law enforcement authorities arbitrarily arrested, issued unjust fines, and unlawfully used force against demonstrators (including women’s rights activists, trade unionists, members of political parties, lawyers, and others) who took part in November and December 2020 peaceful protests against a blanket ban on demonstrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amnesty International cited cases of individuals who were initially transferred to police stations for identity checks and subsequently charged with breaching public health rules (also see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Authorities respected court orders. Observers continued to track the case of Andreas Georgiou, who was the head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority during the Greek financial crisis. The Council of Appeals cleared Georgiou three times of a criminal charge that he falsified 2009 budget data to justify Greece’s first international bailout. Georgiou appealed a 2017 criminal conviction for violation of duty to the European Court of Human Rights. Separately, a government official filed a civil suit in 2014 as a private citizen against Georgiou. The official stated he was slandered by a press release issued from Georgiou’s office. Georgiou was convicted of simple slander in 2017. The Supreme Court in October granted Georgiou an injunction until January 2023, when it is scheduled to consider his appeal of the slander conviction.
The constitution and law provide for the rights of defendants to: a presumption of innocence; be informed promptly of the charges; a fair, timely, and generally public trial; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter (for any defendant who cannot understand or speak the language used in court); confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. Delays in trials occurred mostly due to backlogs of pending cases, understaffing, and the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trials were public in most instances. By law a suspect or defendant has the right to seek compensation for damages resulting from public officials disrespecting the individual’s presumed innocence at any time during legal proceedings. According to the same legislation, the burden of proof of guilt lies with the court and the defendant benefits from any doubt. Some NGOs criticized the quality and lack of availability of interpretation.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The law provides citizens with the ability to sue the government for compensation for alleged violations of rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The law addresses property restitution, and many Holocaust-era property claims have been resolved, but several matters remained open. The NGO Organization for the Relief and Rehabilitation of Jews in Greece (OPAIE) claimed more than 100 properties owned by Jews before the war were occupied as government facilities. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of OPAIE regarding one of the property cases. Following the ruling, a committee of government appointees and representatives of the Central Jewish Council was established in 2019 to negotiate the fate of the remaining properties. The Committee has only met once, virtually, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; no decision on future steps was taken during the year.
The Jewish community of Thessaloniki had a pending case against the Russian government calling for the return of the community’s prewar archives. On several occasions throughout the year, authorities, including Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, publicly urged the return of these archives. According to the NGO Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS), on December 8, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin informed the prime minister Russia would return the archives. Additionally, the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw held religious artifacts allegedly stolen from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in 1941. The community continued to request return of the artifacts.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, is available on the Department’s website at: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/