Amnesty International released on Tuesday a damning report on the state of human rights during the pandemic in Greece, saying that the police are using the pandemic as an excuse to impose blanket bans on protests.
The report, titled “Greece: Freedom of assembly at risk and unlawful use of force in the era of Covid-19,” says that the police apply excessive force to crush peaceful demonstrations and that flawed legislation and problematic practices have had a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.
Amnesty said Greek police had used “arbitrary arrests, blanket bans, unjustified fines and unlawful use of force” from November 2020 through March 2021.
“Governments do not have carte blanche to restrict human rights, even during a pandemic,” the London-based rights group said.
Greece restricts protests
The report notes that during the country’s second lockdown, “the Greek authorities three times introduced blanket bans on public outdoor assemblies that constituted disproportionate restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and violated Greece’s obligations under international human rights law.”
It notes that in November and December 2020, the Greek authorities penalized peaceful protesters or individuals calling for participation in peaceful protests.
Human rights lawyers, women’s rights defenders, trade unionists and members of political parties were arbitrarily arrested and criminalized for allegedly breaching public health rules and were handed unjustified administrative fines.
“These rights were violated at a time when people wished to voice their concerns over important issues such as unlawful use of force by police, gender-based violence and the significant problems in Greece’s public health system – hit by many years of austerity policies – at the time of the pandemic,” Amnesty says.
The report also highlights the “detrimental legislative reforms regulating demonstrations introduced in July and September 2020.”
It documents cases where Greek authorities unlawfully interfered with and failed to facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by introducing blanket bans and dispersing peaceful assemblies including by resorting to unnecessary and excessive use of force.
Some protestors alleged, according to the Amnesty report, that police hit them with batons on their heads and used stun grenades in a way that could cause considerable injury, including hearing problems.
In some cases, female interviewees said that they were subjected to sexist and abusive language by police — and in one case, protesters said that riot police identified themselves as being members of the far-right party Golden Dawn.
Amnesty calls on Greece to change laws and practices on protests
Amnesty called on Greece to amend legislation and policies regulating demonstrations to bring them in line with the country’s international human rights commitments.
It also calls on the Greek police to ensure that all uniformed law enforcement officials display an easily recognizable and clearly visible form of personalized identification at all times.
The organization also urges Greek authorities to stop characterizing incidents of unlawful use of force as “isolated”, to acknowledge the systemic nature of the phenomenon and to send a strong message that such incidents will not be tolerated.