INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION, VIENNA, AUSTRIA International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
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IHF Focus:      
  Freedom of expression and the media; freedom of religion; conscientious objection; protection of minorities (the Macedonians, Roma and Turks); protection of immigrants.

Violations of minority rights in Greece remained a central cause for concern in 1996. The Greek government maintained its refusal to acknowledge the existence of national or ethnic minorities within its territory. The UN Rapporteur’s findings on religious intolerance highlighted both the existence of serious restrictions hampering freedom of religion and the privileged status of the majority Greek-Orthodox Church. Other human rights concerns included insufficient protection afforded to immigrants, the lack of civilian alternatives to military service, and citizenship issues.

Freedom of Expression and the Media      
  While no restrictions to free reporting were imposed on the Greek-language media in 1996, Greek authorities initiated several criminal proceedings against minority media.
  • On 9 October 1996, the editor of Moglena, a publication of the Human Rights Movement of the Macedonians in Greece, and Father Nikodimos Tsarknias[2], were summoned to investigations. Also the editor of the publication Zora, of the ethnic Macedonian Rainbow Party, was summoned by the police for an investigation prior to possible criminal proceedings. On the same day, an administrative court postponed the official registration of Zora’s title, until "possible confusion" that the title could create at the expense of a Greek-language printing house called Ora could be discounted.
  • Abdulhalim Dede, director of the Turkish-language radio station Radio Icik, in Komotini, faced two trials in early 1997. In the first trial, he was accused of alleged illegal broadcasting between 1 August 1994 and 15 September 1995. In this trial, the charges were dropped: although his radio station had indeed broadcast without a license, it was common knowledge in Greece that all non-state radio stations - including Greek-language stations - were forced to operate illegally because of failure by the authorities to issue the appropriate licenses. Despite this, Radio Icik was the only station to have faced such charges. In his capacity as director of the Turkish-language newspaper Trakya’Nin Sesi, Dede was accused of defamation and of "dissemination of false information which may cause uneasiness or fear in the citizens and undermine their confidence in the Greek state." Dede had claimed that "Thrace is governed by the para-state" (i.e., shadow-state mechanisms). The charges were based on an article whose critical content by no means exceeded the usual tone of the Greek media. In the second trial, Dede was convicted for aggravated defamation to 10 months in prison (or fines). He appealed the sentence.

In Greece, the law stipulates that the Greek Post Office (ELTA) offer reduced rate postage to papers and magazines.

  • In September 1996, however, ELTA refused to mail the Macedonian-language publication Moglena (see above) at the reduced rate, apparently merely because of its promotion of ethnic Macedonian identity.
Freedom of Religion      
  The large majority of Greek citizens were Orthodox Christian members of the official Orthodox Church. A few hundred thousand Greeks, though, were Old Calendarists. According to estimates, there were also some 90,000 Muslims, 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 50,000 Catholics, 20,000 Protestants, and 4,000 Jews in Greece. Other estimates, however, put the real number of Catholics at about 150,000 and that of Muslims at a few hundred thousand, to take account of the large number of illegal immigrants who were not registered in official statistics.

With the exception of the Muslims in Western Thrace, other Muslims were forbidden to have their own places of worship. Their religious ceremonies took place in private houses or in the offices of their organizations, without legal permission.

The UN Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance visited Greece in June 1996 at the invitation of the Greek government. His report to the UN General Assembly was published on 7 November 1996. The Special Rapporteur criticized legal guarantees of freedom of religion as insufficient, noting the prohibition of proselytism and the privileged position of the Greek-Orthodox Church.[3]

Article 13.2 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship only to the "known" religions. However, no constitutional, legislative or other definition of this concept exists. In practice, religions which were considered transparent, having no secret dogmas, able to be openly adhered to, and thus to pose no threat to public order, morals and the rule of the law were considered as "known." These included the so-called traditional religions such as the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches, Judaism, and Islam as well as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter, however, achieved such recognition only after decisions in the courts.

Article 13.2 of the Constitution prohibits proselytism, but again no definition is provided. Moreover, proselytism is punishable under two old laws dating from the inter-war dictatorship (Acts No. 1363/1938 and 1672/1939). These define proselytism as direct or indirect attempts to influence or alter the religious beliefs of others, in particular by fraudulent means or with promises of any type of material or moral gain.

The UN Rapporteur noted that the prohibition of proselytism seriously undermined freedom of religion in Greece because proselytism is itself inherent in religion and thus is protected by, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 3 paragraph 1 of the Constitution recognizes the "Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ," i.e., the majority Orthodox Church, as "dominant," which gives it the status of official religion. By law, only a member of the Orthodox Church may be elected president. Even the text of the Bible is constitutionally "protected", and as such may not be translated without the prior approval of the Orthodox Church of Greece and of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. On the basis of inter-war legislation, the government’s and local bishops’ permission are required for the construction or restoration of non-Orthodox places of worship.The UN Rapporteur also criticized the lack of legal provisions for alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors and the mandatory entry of religious denomination in identity cards.

Religious Minorities:      
  The Catholic Church

Due to the privileged status of the Orthodox Church, other religious communities were relegated to disadvantaged status. The European Court of Human Rights condemned the discrimination against other religious communities in its recent rulings and granted admissibility to a further important case.

  • The Catholic church of the Virgin Mary (Tis Panagias), which was founded in 1879 in Chania (Crete), brought charges against some neighbors who had demolished one of its walls in 1987. The church won its case in the first instance, but lost it on appeal. The Supreme Court in March 1994 upheld the appeal court's decision and stated that the church was not a juridic person and therefore could not initiate juridical proceedings. The bishop in charge of the church appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in November 1994. On 15 January 1996, the European Court of Human Rights granted admissibility to the case of Frangiskos Papamanolis v. Greece.

The Catholic Church, under Greek law, was not a juridic person because Greek courts refused to recognize it as such. This placed the Church’s property, even its existence, at risk. The European Court was due to take up the case in 1997. In Greece in 1996, only the Orthodox Church and the Jewish community were recognized through legislation and they therefore enjoyed the status of juridic persons in public law. The Greek government claimed that the Catholic Church should have applied to become an association or a foundation which would give it the status of juridic person in private law. This, however, would have placed the Catholic Church in a disadvantaged position compared with other "historical" religions in Greece. The status of association or foundation would have made the Church’s position precarious because the state could have controlled the church’s activities and, if it so wished, have dissolved it when it so pleased Moreover, the procedures of recognition were much more recent than the existence of the Catholic Church in Greece.

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece stated that the Greek state should introduce unambiguous, neutral and fair legislation on religions which would not discriminate against religious minority communities.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses constituted the religious community which had perhaps suffered most in Greece. On 26 September 1996, the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment on the case of Manoussakis and Others v. Greece. In it, Greece was convicted of breaching Article 9 of the Convention (on religious freedom), and the applicants were awarded DRS 4 million (USD 16,500) for costs and expenses.

  • The four applicants, Titos Manoussakis, Constantinos Makridakis, Kyriakos Baxevanis and Vassilios Hadjakis, all Jehovah's Witnesses, had on 28 June 1983 applied to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for permission to use a room Manoussakis had rented in Heraklion (Crete) as a place of worship. The Ministry had informed the applicants six times between November 1983 and December 1984 that "it was not yet in a position to take a decision because it had not received all the necessary information from the other departments concerned." In fact, the applicants had received no answer by the time of the European Court's judgment 13 years later. On 3 March 1986, the Heraklion public prosecutor initiated criminal proceedings against the applicants under laws 1363/1938 and 1672/1939, for having established and operated a place of worship for religious meetings and ceremonies without authorization from the recognized ecclesiastical (i.e., the Orthodox Church) authorities and the Ministry of Education. The applicants were first acquitted but then in February 1990 each sentenced on appeal to three months’ imprisonment, convertible to a pecuniary penalty and a fine of DRS 20,000 (USD 830). The Supreme Court dismissed the applicants’ appeal. In August 1991, they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. On 20 September 1993, the police sealed up the room used as a place of worship by the applicants.

In its defense, the Greek government referred to the Orthodox Church's position as a national religion, accused Jehovah's Witnesses of proselytism and of using illegal means to spread their religion.

The European Court severely criticized Greek legislation for "allowing far-reaching interference by the political, administrative and ecclesiastical authorities with the exercise of religious freedom" and for allowing the Minister of Education the possibility to "defer his reply indefinitely or to refuse his authorization without explanation." The Court noted that in practice these laws had helped the state "to impose rigid or indeed prohibitive conditions on the practice of religious beliefs by certain non-orthodox movements" and adds that there is "a clear tendency on the part of the administrative and ecclesiastical authorities to use these provisions to restrict the activities of faiths outside the Orthodox Church."

The Church of Scientology

On 20 December 1996, the Single-Member First-Instance Court of Athens dissolved the Greek Center of Applied Philosophy (KEFE), which acted as the juridic person of the Church of Scientology in private law. The reasons given by the court for the dissolution were: that KEFE had pursued goals different from those called for by the statutes because it had engaged in business activities inconsistent with its status as an association; that the aims pursued by the church were alien to the nature and the substance of the human being as a free person; and that these aims were alien to the morals and the customs of the Greek people. The court also accepted the reasons mentioned by the public prosecutor during the trial, namely that the association was engaged in proselytism and spying and that the Church of Greece and the Panhellenic Parents’ Union - which had asked for the dissolution - had a legal right to intervene to protect Greek Orthodox culture and religion.

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece stated that, regarding the financial dealings of KEFE, the verdict was possibly correct, although the prosecution failed to conclusively substantiate the accusations. Business-type activities were allowed for non-profit organizations in Greece but as societies, not associations. All other arguments, however, were tantamount to violation of religious freedom and harassment of a minority religion. They said that the Greek morals and customs which the court judgement wished to "protect" were in fact the morals and customs of the Greek Orthodox Church. Therefore, the court’s verdict set a dangerous precedent which could be used against all minority religions registered as associations in Greece, since it would be impossible to ensure that their values and morals were fully compatible with those of the dominant Orthodox Church.

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece looked carefully into the two reports on KEFE prepared by the Public Prosecutor Ioannis Angelis and the Prefecture of Athens. They concluded that the prosecutor had failed to produce sufficient evidence on any other charges than some minor irregularities regarding financial issues which could have given grounds for fines. However, the two organizations did not find sufficient evidence in the reports to support allegations of harmful psychological effects inflicted by KEFE on its members.

The fact that the public prosecutor in this case did not operate as a neutral investigating officer was confirmed by the fact that in November 1995 he had given a representative of the Orthodox Church copies of documents which he had seized from the KEFE office and which were, according to Greek law, confidential. The Orthodox Church subsequently published them selectively. Moreover, in mid-1996, the report of the prosecutors was conveniently "leaked" to the media which then launched a campaign against Scientology. KEFE itself was not given a copy of the report until many months later, despite having made an official request to see it.

Conscientious Objection[4]      
  Greece was the only EU country in 1996 which did not offer civilian service as an alternative to military service. In 1996, some 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned as conscientious objectors (COs). As of the end of 1996, a total of some 250 COs were serving prison terms.

There were also an estimated 100 declared non-religious COs. They had refused to obey call-ups and to present themselves to military units, and had sent instead a letter to the authorities declaring their refusal to perform military service.

The 1975 Greek Constitution, which was revised in 1985, does not provide for alternative civilian service. Article 4(6) states that "every Greek capable of bearing arms is obliged to contribute to the defense of the Fatherland as provided by law." In July 1996, a new bill on unarmed service was passed. This did not improve the situation as it only provided for unarmed service of 28 months which COs reject. Moreover, COs thereafter had to prove their convictions before a commission, a procedure which did not exist under the former law.

When presenting the bill, Defense Minister Gerasimos Arsenis stated once more that an alternative civilian service was unconstitutional. This argument was commonly based on a 669/1991 opinion of the Legal Council of State[5] to that effect.

The European Parliament repeatedly urged (in 1993 and 1994) that the Greek government introduce alternative civilian service. Despite frequent official statements that such a law was under preparation, there was no evident action towards that end. On the contrary, in 1995, the policy towards conscientious objectors became harsher in response to increasing political, ethnic and military tensions in the region. Both the military and the Greek-Orthodox Church have put pressure on the government, the latter because of the fact that most COs are Jehovah Witnesses. During 1996, official policy towards COs was relaxed somewhat.

Conscientious objectors in Greece had to stand trial in military courts, since they were regarded from the time of their call-up as members of the army. Religious objectors were sentenced under Article 53 of the Military Penal Code for disobeying a military order in a period of general mobilization.[6] The usual sentence was four years’ imprisonment.

In the past, most non-religious conscientious objectors also received four- to five-year prison sentences and lost certain civil rights. During 1995, sentences were sometimes shortened to between 12 and 18 months and/or suspended. After their release, however, objectors were likely to be called up again, starting the whole process over. In 1996, many non-religious COs were technically wanted for desertion.

According to the August 1995 Military Penal Code, imprisonment for disobedience to military service (the offense committed by religious conscientious objectors) is now recorded as a misdemeanor and not as a crime. Thus in theory the objector should no longer face employment problems after completing his prison term. Furthermore, according to the Code, COs should no longer be held in custody. This provision has not so far been adequately applied.

Protection of Minorities:      
  The Macedonian Minority

The Macedonian minority continued to face various forms of harassment and discrimination in 1996. These included restrictions on freedom of cultural expression, violations of the freedom of association, harassment of its political party, Rainbow, denial of entry to Greece by ethnic Macedonians and former Greek citizens living abroad, and citizenship issues.

On 24 June 1996, the European Commission of Human Rights declared admissible the complaint against Greece, filed by founder members of the association Home of Macedonian Culture. They wanted to challenge decisions of the Greek courts, at all levels, rejecting registration of their association since 1990. This was the first time that a case involving discrimination against the Macedonian minority in Greece reached the European Court and won admissibility.

The Greek state attempted to refute the applicants’ claim by arguing that no such minority existed in Greece. It called the Greek Macedonians "Slavs of Skopje," and claimed that the purpose of their complaint was solely to "obtain a ruling by the Convention organs that the name Macedonia belongs to the recently established Slav nation of Skopje." Elsewhere, the government claimed that the applicants wanted "to establish an association on behalf of the minority of the Slavs of Skopje in order to protect the cultural traditions of Skopje, which are in reality of Bulgarian and Yugoslav origin. The Government affirm that such a minority and such cultural traditions do not exist in Greece."

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece carried out a fact-finding mission to Florina in July 1996. Their representatives attended a cultural festival organized in the commune of Meliti, celebrating the prophet Elias. They also met with local authorities and members of the minority's political party, Rainbow.

The mission discussed with the Prefect of Florina, Traianos Petkanis, the possible return of political refugees, instruction in the Macedonian language, and problems facing the minority's political party. The Prefect was willing to discuss the problems of returning refugees, but noted that no solution lay within his authority. The prefect also rejected the use of the term "minority" to describe the people mentioned. He did, however, express his opposition to any violent acts committed against the minority's Rainbow party.

The 1996 festival of Meliti was held without police interference although the police maintained a discreet presence. This was a positive development from previous years when the festival site had been surrounded by police forces ready to intervene. In 1993, the members the Greek Helsinki Monitor mission were under close surveillance by state security services.

Still, Greek authorities did not allow ethnic Macedonians to carry out their festivities as planned.

  • A group of 29 young dancers from Canada of Macedonian origin, who were to have participated in the festival, were prohibited from entering the country at the border check-point of Niki. The authorities cited Article 6.5 of the law 1975/91 concerning immigration. This stipulates that "entry of a foreign citizen in Greek territory is prohibited in case the purpose of his visit is to undertake any labor activity or business activity or self-employing professional activity without having authorization of the consulate which granted the visa..." After considerable harassment, and following the intervention of Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece, the group was granted a tourist visa. However, they were not allowed to wear their costumes or to dance at the Meliti festival.
  • Steve Pliakes, a Canadian citizen born in the village of Sklithro, Florina, was also denied entry, apparently because of his activities for the Macedonian minority abroad. His wife Lilly Pliakes, also a Canadian citizen and born in Andartico, Florina, was allowed to enter the country.

After the country's civil war (1944-1949), many ethnic Macedonians left Greece along with other Greek citizens, who although of Greek origin had fought with the communist forces. A 1982 law allowed ethnic Greek refugees to return. Ethnic Macedonians still had no right to return, as of the end of 1996. Moreover, even short visits to participate, for example, in weddings or funerals were usually prohibited.

Also children of Greek Macedonian refugees as well as activists involved in Macedonian issues were denied entry. Although the practice has no basis in law, there is good reason to believe that there are "black lists" which border authorities have to respect.

  • On 24 October 1996, Victor Bivell, an Australian citizen, was denied entry to Greece. He and his wife were on their honeymoon and wanted to visit the village of Victor Bivell’s parents for a few days. Bivell is the manager of Pollitecon Publications (Australia) which has published or distributed books about the Macedonian minority in Greece.

In late 1996, Greek authorities eased somewhat the restrictions on entry for citizens of the Republic of Macedonia. Many of those who had Macedonian passports in which their place of birth was marked "Greece" only, without a Macedonian name for the location, were allowed to visit Greece for 20 days. Those whom Greek authorities regarded as undesirable were refused entry.

Border authorities regularly checked and occasionally seized printed material carried by people entering Greece from Macedonia.

  • On 17 February, Rainbow leader Traianos Pasois crossed the border at Niki. He was carrying two calendars in the Macedonian language with pictures from Northern Greek cities, cited by their Slavic names. Greek border authorities confiscated the calendars and gave Pasois no documentation. Pasois brought charges against the officers. On 30 November, the public prosecutor of Florina rejected the charges as unfounded. She stated that the officers had acted on orders of "their superiors and the competent ministry." She added that the seized material "cannot be allowed in the country and should be returned to its country of origin as it is propaganda material that may disturb the relations between our country and the neighboring country of Skopje." Furthermore, the prosecutor indicted Pasois for having violated article 191 by "disseminating false information or rumors which may cause […] disruption of the international relations of the country."
  • On 8 May, the Macedonian minority activist Father Nikodimos Tsarknias was acquitted in three trials, held in Edesa, in Northern Greece from the charges of "pretense of authority." Father Nikodimos Tsarknias was convicted on 2 December 1994 for wearing the frock of an Orthodox priest although the Greek Orthodox Church had defrocked him in early 1993. The court disregarded the certificate of the Orthodox Church of Macedonia which Father Tsarknias possessed before his defrocking, arguing that in Greece only the Church of Greece can accredit clergymen. Yet, the Greek state and court system tolerate the wearing of the Orthodox frock by clergymen of two Eastern-rite Churches which the Greek Church has never recognized: the Old Calendarists and the Greek Catholics (Uniates). Father Tsarknias had also accumulated a dozen similar convictions, most of them in absentia. The May 1996 trial was monitored by an IHF mission made up of members of the Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Macedonian Helsinki Committee. Greek Helsinki Monitors’s spokesperson testified as an expert witness for the defense raising issues of freedom of religion and the state’s neutrality regarding religions as well as issues specific to this case.
  • On 20 December, customs officials at Salonica airport searched carefully Father Nikodimos Tsarknias’ personal belongings, including English-language documentation of various delegations to the OSCE 1996 Review Conference in Vienna in which Father Tsarknias had participated. The documents were eventually returned to their owner.

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece urged that the Greek state finally recognize the Macedonian minority in Greece; allow its members to form associations; and grant the Macedonian refugees the right to return to Greece and to visit it. They also gave their support to the EU’s encouragement to establish "inter-cultural" schools where languages of minority groups would be instructed.

The Roma Minority

The Roma minority in Greece in 1996 numbered about 350,000 individuals.[7] It was estimated that half of these were permanently settled, mostly in the area of Greater Athens. The rest were mobile throughout Greece.

Most Roma in Greece belong to two specific groups. Most members of the first group, called Ficira or Bacora, had become marginalized as a result of the crisis in the agricultural sector which caused their exclusion from the labor market. Work opportunities were further reduced by the inflow of foreigners to the black market of seasonal employment. Few among this community were insured or had access to the public health system.

The members of the second group, called Filipijie, Handura, Kalpazaj or Rumelie, were mostly merchants, were relatively well-educated and speaking both Romanes and Greek, yet respecting and following their old customs. They were organized in a large number of non-profit associations and often engaged in cultural and humanitarian activities.

In 1996, despite differences in the degree of integration and social background of different Roma groups, the major common problem for all Roma remained discrimination and open racism, both among the population and in local government. Other difficulties varied from group to group.

Many Roma belonging to the Ficira group did not have identify cards. This problem dated back to the fact that, until 1970, Roma were not recognized as Greek citizens. Even in 1996, some local authorities arbitrarily refused to register Roma or placed so many bureaucratic hurdles in their way that they gave up the attempt. The lack of identity cards prevented them from having access to a large number of services, particularly in the health sector.

Exacerbated by their lack of education and professional training, unemployment was one of the most serious problems for the Ficira Roma in 1996. Many were living from what they could find in the public trash dumps, or recycling centres. Uncertainty about their professional future in combination with hard living conditions led some to pursue illegal activities. This affected the whole Roma population, who were frequently made collectively responsible for robberies, black market activities, and other offenses.

The large majority of the Ficira Roma were homeless and living only in makeshift huts. Some owned a piece of land, but had been arbitrarily denied the necessary building license. Others, who had obtained such licenses, had not been able to make use of it because of police intervention on various pretexts.

  • In Ano Liosia, Roma who had been granted a license to build homes in an area owned by the Ministry of Public Health were unable to do so after the authorities suddenly decided to turn the land into a park.

Roma were frequently harassed and ill-treated by police in ways that suggested racial motivation. It was difficult to estimate the number of such attacks as most victims did not file complaints, out of fear or ignorance about their legal rights. The authorities appeared to endorse racist attitudes and acts, hardly ever investigating properly allegations of ill-treatment of Roma and bringing those responsible to justice.

  • On 20 February, police officers were searching for five Roma suspected of criminal offenses in the camp of Aspropyrgos, Attica. They did not find the suspects, but a violent conflict emerged between some Roma and the police officers. As a result, a whole division of special anti-terrorist forces (EKAM), armed with automatic weapons and knives and wearing balaclavas and flak jackets, stormed into the camp. They slashed open tents and pointed pistols at people’s heads. They swore at, kicked and beat Roma who had been ordered to lie on the ground. All this occurred in front of television cameras invited into the camp by the police. Some 70 people, including minors, were arrested and later released. The whole raid appeared to be a form of "revenge" by police for the clash that had occurred that morning. The raid caused an outrage both in the media and public opinion. Leading EKAM officers were suspended. However, as of the end of 1996, the Roma had not received the promised financial compensation for damaged property.

As a result of publicity over the incident, 3 billion Drs. (13 million USD) were reportedly allocated for a two-year multi-faceted program for the Roma. Yet, little had been implemented by the end of 1996.

  • On 19 November, police set up a roadblock near Livadia, Boetia, in an attempt to arrest a Rom suspected of murder. At about midday the police stopped five agricultural cars and told about 35 Roma to lie down with their faces towards the ground. One of those involved was Anastasios Mouratis, a 45-year-old father of six children. As he was lying down, he lifted his head and looked in the direction of his two under-age children, also lying on the ground. This was apparently interpreted by police officer Dimitris Trimis as "a threatening gesture." He shot Mouratis on the spot, wounding him fatally. The police officer was suspended from work pending the result of an inquiry. He was also indicted by the public prosecutor but was subsequently set free.

During 7-21 March 1996, Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece organized a fact-finding mission to a number of Roma communities in Attica and the Peloponnese to focus on the main problems faced by Roma. The International Romani Union and Rromani Baxt also participated in the mission.

The Turkish Minority

The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 provided for an exchange of minority populations between Greece and Turkey: all Turks in Greece were to move to Turkey and all Greeks in Turkey to move to Greece. Exception was made for the 106,000 ethnic Turks in Western Thrace in Greece, and 111,000 Greeks in Istanbul (Constantinople) and on the islands of Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) in Turkey.

Relations between Greece and Turkey remained relatively friendly for decades. In 1955, attacks upon ethnic Greeks in Istanbul and the 1964 events in Cyprus provoked an exodus of Greeks from Turkey. Meanwhile, the situation for the Muslim minority in Western Thrace worsened considerably, with various forms of harassment by the Greek authorities,= leading many to doubt whether they had a future in Greece.

After the deterioration of Greek-Turkish relations, the Turkish minority in Greece was defined collectively as "Muslims". The Greek government would not even acknowledge that the vast majority of Thracian Muslims identified themselves as Turks. Even Greek supreme court decisions have refused to accept the names of associations which contain the adjective "Turkish."

Throughout recent decades, Greek governments actively encouraged the "Muslim" minority to leave the country. They frequently resorted to discriminatory measures and created a climate of insecurity. The minority had shrunk from 120,000 people in the 1930s to an estimated 80.000- 90.000 by 1996[8], in spite of the community’s high birth rate.

In the 1980s, the Foreign Ministry of the PASOK government reportedly issued secret circulars ordering authorities to accept only five percent of all requests by the Turkish minority regarding land, building permits, professional licenses, etc. Some of these orders were reportedly still valid in 1996.

Time and again, tension between the Turkish minority and the majority population escalated into violence.

  • On 16 August, a rally called by the Bishop Damaskinos took place in Komotini. Although it was not directly connected with the Cyprus incidents - having been called to protest a plan proposed in Turkey to convert Aghia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque - it ended in violent attacks against the local Turkish population. Bands of people armed with iron clubs and chains ill-treated several Turks, and shops belonging to Turks were vandalized. The local prefect and the government condemned the attacks but the local police, although present in large numbers, failed to do anything to prevent the riots. Moreover, some eyewitnesses claimed that at least one uniformed police officer had been actively involved in the beating. The prefect publicly stated that the police had failed to do their duty. An internal inquiry was ordered.

Until 1990, Turkish minority members needed special licenses in order to buy land, to build a house, even to repair buildings. Also, they needed licenses for special professions or to drive a car. For a long time, it was nearly impossible for them to obtain such licenses.

In 1990, large areas belonging to minority members were expropriated for purposes which were never in fact realized. As a result, the minority population which in 1923 had owned 85 percent of the land in Western Thrace, by 1990 owned only about 35 percent.

Cultural isolation constituted the most serious complaint made by members of the Turkish minority. It remained the case in 1996 that neither Turkish literature and schoolbooks nor newspapers published in Turkey were available in Western Thrace, although in the rest of Greece they were readily available. School education remained highly unsatisfactory. No member of the minority was employed in a senior position in the region’s public administration.

The religious leader of the Turkish minority, the mufti, was in the past elected by the minority community. From 1990 onwards, however, the Greek government made the appointment. The government claimed this was because the mufti was not only a spiritual leader but also had several administrative and legal functions. Still, many members of the minority felt that a Christian government should not choose the spiritual leader of a Muslim community. They therefore elected two "alternative" muftis, in Xanthi and in Komotini. Both of these were indicted several times for "pretense of authority," for the mere use of the mufti title.

  • On 7 May 1996, Emin Aga, whom the minority members in Xanthi elected mufti in 1991, was sentenced to 12 months in prison. He bought off his sentence.
  • On 21 October 1996, Ibram Sherif, mufti of Komotini elected in 1990 by members of the Turkish minority, was convicted in Salonica "for pretense of authority" because he had used the title of mufti. He was sentenced to six months in prison, but was set free on appeal.

Many Turkish villages are situated within an area close to the Bulgarian border which was guarded during the Cold War. This area constituted a "restricted area" and its inhabitants had little contact with surrounding communities. They had to carry special "internal passports" which formally limited their freedom to move within this zone, or since 1992, within the respective prefecture. At the same time, access to this area was restricted by the Greek police. These restrictions and internal passports were abolished in 1995. Nevertheless, in 1996, foreigners were still not allowed to enter this area. Members of Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Danish Helsinki Committee who managed to visit the area saw signposts marked with the words "controlled area," and were under close police surveillance during their stay.

From 1994, the prefects for the area were elected by local inhabitants. However, a law was introduced which redrew the borders of the electoral districts, making it extremely difficult for the Turks to elect their chosen candidates. The law joined minority districts with adjacent ones so that ethnic Turks had no chance to elect a person of their own choice as prefect or their representatives in local councils.

School education remained by far the greatest problem for those members of the minority seeking integration into wider Greek society. Minority schools were not free to choose the teachers - as they had been before 1967. The primary schools apparently did not impart a sufficient knowledge of the Greek language to the children wishing to continue their education in Greek high schools. Educational standards were low and most schools lacked qualified staff. Only a small percentage of the applicants to the minority high schools were admitted - by lottery. As a result, some 5,000 young Turks from Greece were studying in Istanbul and Ankara in 1996.

Turkish teachers also became the targets of harassment.

  • Minority primary school teacher Hid Rasim was transferred in August 1996 from the city of Xanthi minority school to a mountainous area of Rodopi. This was a disciplinary measure taken by the Secretary General of the region, after Rasim had used the term "Turkish school" in a teachers’ meeting. According to Legal Decree 1109/72 and Laws 694 and 695/77, the schools of the Muslim minority are to be called "minority schools."
  • Turkish teachers, pupils of Turkish schools, and 13 board members of the former Union of Turkish Teachers of Western Thrace were due to face trial in 1997 for having committed similar "offenses" to the one above in 1994. The Union was dissolved because of its title in 1987 by the country’s Supreme Court. The accused were indicted for "participating in an association the aims of which are contrary to criminal provisions" (Article 188 of the Penal Code) and "inciting citizens to commit acts of violence upon each other" (Article 192).

Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Danish Helsinki Committee urged the Greek government, among other things, to recognize the right to ethnic self-determination of the minority of Western Thrace and to allow the Muslim community to elect their own spiritual leaders.

In 1996, following the August events in Cyprus which led to the killing of two Greek-Cypriots, the situation again escalated in Western Thrace, and the Danish Helsinki Committee and the Greek Helsinki Monitor visited the area at the beginning of September. They had talks both in Athens and in the region with Greek authorities, various embassies, and representatives of several community groups.

Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Danish Helsinki Committee stated, among other things, that the muftis should limit themselves to their religious duties and that they should be selected by their community in the most appropriate way. Administrative and court duties should be turned over to the secular authorities. They also urged the Greek government to abolish the discriminatory Citizenship Code and, most importantly, that the state should respect the right of the minority to define its own identity.

  Article 19 of the law on Greek citizenship provides that persons of non-Greek origin may be deprived of their Greek citizenship if they leave the country without a proven intention to return. This decision could be taken by the Ministry of Interior without either giving the individual in question the opportunity to explain his/her intentions or notifying them about the decision.

Article 20 of the law allows Greek authorities to strip those people of their citizenship who have placed themselves in the "service of foreign powers."

Both articles were applied to ethnic Macedonians and Turks. Over the years to 1996, thousands of persons had lost Greek citizenship. Many became stateless, having had no other citizenship. Some of them were still living in Greece. In 1995, Article 19 was used in 72 cases. According to the Greek Foreign Ministry, 45 of these people had voluntarily given up their Greek citizenship.

All political parties in Greece have at one time or another suggested ways in which Article 19 should be abolished, but as of this writing, no measures had yet been taken to that end.

  • Hussein Ramadanoglou and his wife Aisse-Gul Fetaoglou are both ethnic Turks, Greek citizens and holders of valid Greek passports but living in Germany. Upon their return to Greece in April 1996 from a family visit to Turkey, Greek authorities told them that, under Article 19, they had been deprived of their citizenship as early as November 1992. Ironically, their son, who had not accompanied them to Turkey, retained his citizenship. Greek authorities claimed that Hussein Ramadanoglou had not renewed his passport since 1991, which was not in fact the case.
  • Ali-Tsomes Baidin from Xanthi was deprived of his citizenship in 1990 under Article 20. He won his appeal in 1993 but was thereafter repeatedly refused entry to Greece, in the past because the municipality of Xanthi would not register him, and in 1996, when he was finally registered, because the Greek Consulate in Izmir (Turkey) would not issue him with the necessary passport. Following protests including those of the Danish Helsinki Committee to the Greek Foreign Ministry, the authorities finally allowed Mr. Baidin to return to Greece and to legalize his situation.
Protection of Immigrants      
  From the late 1980s onwards, Greece received a massive influx of foreign immigrants. Most immigrants were working illegally, having arrived with tourist visas. Many crossed land borders or came by sea without any legal documents. After 1990, the majority of them were Albanians.

There were no official statistics relating to all foreigners living in Greece. Data was available only relating to the few legally employed foreigners, numbering about 30,000. According to unofficial estimates, the largest groups living in Greece in 1996 were Albanians (200-300,000), Poles (50-100,000), Egyptians (55-70,000), and Filipinos (35-40,000).

An agreement on lifting the visa requirements between Albania and Greece was reached in May 1996, on the eve of the parliamentary elections in Albania. However, this had not been implemented by the end of 1996. Following this agreement, the Greek government finally set in motion legal measures to legalize the status of all foreign immigrants residing in the country. By the year’s end, a preliminary draft of the necessary presidential decree was prepared. It called for a two-month period during which all illegal immigrants should register themselves and, in return, be granted a temporary six-month residence permit, renewable for another three months. This would also serve as a temporary work permit. All those not registered would be expelled.

Greek Helsinki Monitor criticized the temporary character of the permits, which would make the future of the immigrants uncertain, since by registering themselves, they would risk expulsion after their residence permits expired. It also said that permits should additionally cover family members living in Greece. Furthermore, it criticized the combination of residence and work permits for making the immigrants vulnerable to the interests of their employers.

Despite the steps taken towards normalization of relations between Greece and Albania, in August 1996, Greek authorities launched a campaign to arrest thousands of Albanian immigrants, most of them illegal, and forcefully deport them back to Albania. Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Albanian Helsinki Committee estimated that, by 30 August, over 7,000 Albanians had been arrested, many of them taken away directly from their places of work and immediately escorted to the border. Many reports of ill-treatment by the police were received.[9]

This was the third nationwide sweep in recent years to force Albanian immigrants to leave Greece: In 1993, some 30,000 Albanians were deported after the expulsion of the Greek-born Archmandrite Mandoni of Gjirokastra (Albania), accused of autonomist propaganda for the Greek minority in Albania. In 1994, more than 100,000 Albanians were rounded up and deported as a reaction to the arrest of five Greek minority leaders in Albania who had been charged with espionage.

In a common statement of 30 August, the Albanian Helsinki Committee and Greek Helsinki Monitor expressed their concern over the repressive measures taken by Greek authorities at the expense of Albanians and other immigrants working in Greece. They stressed that in the new situation, when the relations between the two countries had reached such a good level of understanding and cooperation, greater effort should be deployed to find a more reasonable and satisfactory solution. All the more, they noted, since the May bilateral agreement pointed in the other direction, towards legalization rather than mass expulsions.

Working conditions for foreigners working illegally in Greece in recent years were miserable. They were underpaid, and often victims of labor accidents, most of which were not declared. Illegal foreign workers were often open to exploitation by employers who even went so far as to denounce workers to the police in order to have them expelled and thereby avoid payment of overdue wages. In an extreme case in 1995, an employer in a village in Crete murdered his Albanian workers in order to avoid paying them for their work.

The 1975 Greek Constitution guarantees a number of rights equally to Greek citizens and foreigners (e.g., personal freedom, the right to juridical protection, and freedom of expression), while it explicitly reserves for Greek citizens certain other rights, such as equality before the law, the right to hold public meetings and form associations, and the right to education. According to Law 1975/91, public services and legal entities under public - and even private - law are not allowed to consider requests by foreigners who do not have residence permits.

Although the Constitution stipulates that a person can be arrested only with a warrant, other legislation allows security police to detain foreigners without one. In practice, illegal aliens were often held in pre-expulsion custody for as long as seven months, in unacceptable hygienic and health conditions. In addition, they were forced to pay a fee of up to Dr. 200,000 (USD 800) upon leaving the country.

The law provides for prison sentences ranging from three months up to five years for foreigners who try to enter or leave the country secretly. The courts usually imposed sentences of between two and 15 months. Such sentences were imposed upon those seeking political asylum, despite the fact that the Geneva Convention on the legal status of refugees forbids this explicitly. In practice, however, the courts simultaneously ruled for extradition, and the prison sentences were not implemented.

Greece is one of the few European countries where no humanitarian legal aid institutions, which would offer free legal services for economically and socially vulnerable groups such as illegal foreigners, exist. In recent years, courtroom lists were full of foreigners facing trial, as a rule for illegal entry and residence or for forged passports, often without any legal assistance. Although the courts were obliged to appoint an interpreter for those accused who did not speak Greek, these hardly ever met the necessary standards.

Greek Helsinki Monitor carried out several activities in 1996 to assist immigrants. For example, it assisted a humanitarian NGO in opening up a Sunday Albanian-language class in Athens for immigrants’ children who were in danger of forgetting their mother tongue after years of living in Greece and attending Greek schools. The effort, which also had the backing of the Albanian Embassy in Athens, was met with suspicion and attacks by members of nationalist circles, including some parliamentary deputies. Following a question raised in Parliament, in early 1996, the Ministry of Education sent police officers to inspect the class. Given the illegal status of most pupils and volunteer teachers, the attendance dropped dramatically after this visit.

1. Unless otherwise noted, based on the Annual Report 1996 of Greek Helsinki Monitor.
2. See Freedom of Religion, below.
3. The following information is based on the UN Rapporteurs report [still not known which?].
4. Based on
Conscientious Objection in Greece and Turkey: Non-Implementation of OSCE Human Dimension Standards, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, October 1995; and information from Greek Helsinki Monitor.
5. The Legal Council of State id a body of lawyers who deliver legal services to the government.
6. Since the Cyprus crisis in 1974, Greece has been in a constant state of general mobilization.
7. The official estimate is 300,000.
8. No official figures exist.
9. "Condemnation of Mass Expulsions of Albanian and Other Immigrants from Greece," Press release, Greek Helsinki Monitor and Albanian Helsinki Committee, 30 August 1996.

International Helsinki Federation - This page was last revised July 15, 1997

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