A magazine cover showing a photoshopped image of the Greek Prime Minister with torture scars on his face, in direct reference to the Greek Police’s use of torture, sparked controversy, with MPs maintaining that it is “an invitation to terrorism”. Yet questions over the recent incident where the Greek Police presented to the public a series of photoshopped images of youths arrested on robbery charges in an attempt to hide evidence of brutality, as well as the statement by the Minister of Public Order that this was done so that they are “recognizable”, remain painfully under-addressed, while claims of torture and police brutality keep mounting.
Publishing the photographs and personal information of citizens arrested on various charges, and asking the public to provide additional information on other crimes they may have committed, is one of the most controversial practices favored by the Greek Police today. Greek law states that the publication of photos or data of arrested persons awaiting trial is prohibited, except in cases of public danger. One is hard pressed to understand what sort of “public danger” is averted through the publication of photos of arrested demonstrators or even HIV positive women charged with prostitution, nevertheless the Police keep doing it and the judicial authorities keep supporting the practice.
Recently, however, this controversial practice was taken to a new level. The Police published photos of four youths arrested on robbery and terrorism charges.
When reporters and members of the public pointed out that the photos had evidently been photoshopped, and rather crudely for that matter, the Police finally released several unaltered photos of those arrested. In the second set of photos, it was revealed they had been brutally beaten.
The Minister of Public Order Mr Nikos Dendias was then asked why the first series of photos had been altered. His reply was that it was done so that the accused would be “recognizable”.
The Minister of Public Order when asked why the first series of photos had been altered, replied that it was done so that the accused would be “recognizable”
Internal Affairs were quick to clear the Police of any wrongdoing. A hasty inquiry found that the accused had been wounded during the struggle that led to their arrest. This is hard to believe. For one, the accused were armed with assault rifles and the Police disarmed them, which makes it implausible that the arrest led to the kind of prolonged fistfight that could have resulted in such beatings. Secondly, before the Internal Affairs inquiry was undertaken, local Police Authorities where the arrests took place gave a Press conference in which they mentioned nothing about a struggle during the arrest. On the contrary, they pointed out that no one was hurt. And the lawyers for the accused subsequently reiterated the sadly not unheard of police practice of beating handcuffed detainees.
What makes the Police’s acquittal seem even more facile, is that this is far from an isolated incident. A few months ago, forensic reports showed extensive beatings and even taser gun scars on detainees – even though the Minister of Public Order vehemently denied any wrongdoing in Parliament. When we interviewed him for UNFOLLOW magazine, he again denied any wrongdoing, despite the forensic reports. The Minister even said he was going to sue the Guardian over a report on the Greek Police’s use of torture. Up to now, of course, he has done nothing of the sort.
Moreover, these incidents appear against a background of a torrent of complaints for abuse and torture by the Greek Police, as reported by Amnesty International, which also documents 12 cases where Greece has been convicted by the European Court of Human Rights for police crimes.
In the March issue of UNFOLLOW magazine, we decided on a symbolic reversal. We photoshopped some torture scars onto the face of the Prime Minister of Greece, rather than taking them off. The caption reads: “Photoshop on the Prime Minister. Politics must be recognizable”.
Upon publication, the first to react was the director of the Prime Minister’s Press Office Mr Giorgos Mouroutis, who called via twitter for a public prosecutor to intervene. At least three MPs for Nea Dimokratia, the leading party in Greece’s government coalition, concurred on the following day that the cover is an invitation to “terrorist action against the Prime Minister”. Two of them, Mr Michelakis and Mr Georgiadis paraded the cover in morning TV shows –though they were saying that it had to be suppressed– and attempted to turn the issue into a shouting match with SYRIZA, the Main Opposition party, asking it to condemn the magazine cover! Mainstream TV stations repeated their statements in their main news shows as fact, without seeking any comment from UNFOLLOW. And finally, the Prime Minister Mr Antonis Samaras, in an interview in Axia newspaper, also connected the magazine cover to SYRIZA, and said: “Have they [SYRIZA] seen what their own magazines and journalists that they protect are publishing? They even have me on the front page, shot in the head using photomontage, unprecedented brutalization. They have not denounced it. […] Let them know this: They are not going to terrorize us…”
Our cover illustrates our position, founded on our reports, that the main perpetrator of undemocratic violence in Greece is your Government. What is it that you do not understand?”
UNFOLLOW published a statement on its website, where it outlines the reasons for widespread concern over police torture in Greece, and points out the following:
“Our cover makes a direct reference to Greek Police torture practices, unheard of in a democratic country. […] We maintain that the repeated attempts to cover up a regime of torture leads to the conclusion that this is systematic policy. The leader of the Government is evidently the architect of this policy.
We further maintain that such undemocratic violence and suppression of human rights are the most barbaric aspect of a political deviation, which includes sidestepping the Parliament and democratic process, “investments” that are damaging to the public interest, and the manipulation of free public discourse. Solid reports on all these have been published in our magazine.
Mr Prime Minister, our reports cast severe doubts on the democratic nature of your government. You have nothing to say on this, but instead try to obscure the harsh yet obvious political irony of our cover by presenting yourself as a victim. You are not a victim, you are a victimizer.
Mr Prime Minister, you further attempt to turn a poignant and well-founded journalistic critique into a conflict with the Opposition. What the Opposition does or does not condemn concerns us only to the extent that we follow it in our capacity as journalists. You may be used to Media that function as branches of party Press offices, but we are not one of those.
Our cover illustrates our position, founded on our reports, that the main perpetrator of undemocratic violence in Greece is your Government, the authorities over which it presides, and the policies it implements.
What is it that you do not understand?”