Human Rights Developments
Despite its membership in the European Union and NATO, human rights violations persisted on an alarming level in Greece during 1996. Of particular concern were violations of minority rights, the maltreatment of immigrants, and restrictions on freedom of expression.
In September 1995, the governments of Greece and Macedonia signed an interim agreement that cleared the way for a normalization of relations. Although the accord guaranteed the free flow of movement between the two countries, tens of thousands of ethnic Macedonians who fled Greece after the civil war were still not allowed back into the country in 1996, even to visit relatives or attend funerals. In contrast, ethnic Greek political refugees were regularly allowed to return. The Macedonian minority in Greece continued to face systematic discrimination. In 1996, for example, Greek courts denied the registration of the organization Shelter of Macedonian Culture. The European Commission of Human Rights consequently declared the case admissible.
Tensions increased in 1996 vis-a-vis the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, in part brought on by the tension between Greece and Turkey over the Aegean islet of Imia (Kardak) and Cyprus. In August, after inter-communal violence left dead two Greek protestors in Cyprus, a gang of motorcyclists rampaged through Komotini, attacking Turks and Turkish-owned property. Police did little to stop the violence, though the prefect of the region condemned the violence and an investigation was launched against the police.
The Greek government continued to deny the existence of a ATurkish minority,@ as opposed to the religious identification of AMuslim@ that is officially used. In 1995, for example, the European Commission of Human Rights declared the case of the late Dr. Sadik Ahmet, a former parliamentarian who had been imprisoned in 1990 for using the words Turkish and Turk, as admissible.
A major instrument used against ethnic Turks in 1996, as well as other minorities, was article 19 of the citizenship law, which allows the state to revoke the citizenship of non-ethnic Greeks who travel abroad without the intent to return. In 1995, the U.S. State Department reported that seventy-two individuals had been arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship; the Greek government claimed that forty-five of them had given it up voluntarily. In 1996, the article was used to revoke the citizenship of a number of non-ethnic Greek citizens who had traveled abroad. One such case concerned Mr. Hussein Ramadanoglu and his wife, who had gone to Germany to work in 1990. In April, on a regular visit to Greece, they were told that they had lost their citizenship.
Another area of concern is the selection of the mufti. A 1990 law gave the state the legal right to appoint muftis, whereas previously they could be elected by the community. In 1995, the elected mufti of Xanthi, Mehmet Emin Aga, served six months in jail; in 1996 both he and the elected Mufti of Komotini, Ibram Sherif, faced similar charges of holding an unauthorized office. On October 21, Ibram Sherif was found guilty and fined.
Ethnic Turks continued to face restrictions on freedom of expression, discrimination in hiring, especially for the civil service, expropriation of land, and poor access to education and other state services. On October 24, the Turkish-language Radio Icik went on trial for operating without a license in 1994 and 1995, even though all private radio stations operate without a license because of the state=s failure to distribute them. One bright point in 1996 was the election of three ethnic Turk deputies in the September parliamentary elections and the entrance into Greek universities of forty-five ethnic Turks through the first affirmative action programs.
The Greek Orthodox Church continued to enjoy a privileged status under Greek law. Other religious communities experienced various forms of state discrimination, particularly Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah=s Witnesses and Scientologists. In May, the Macedonian activist Father Nikodimos Tsarknias was tried for working as an Orthodox priest, since the Greek Orthodox Church had defrocked him in 1993. He was acquitted in three trials, but other charges are still pending. On October 7, a prosecutor in Athens asked for the Greek branch of the Scientologists, known as the Center of Applied Philosophy, to be disbanded.
Greece has a large number of foreign guest workers, most of them from neighboring Albania. In August, the Greek authorities undertook a massive campaign to detain and expel illegal immigrants, the third such campaign in the last three years. According to local human rights organizations, an estimated 7,000 Albanians were rounded up and deported; many of them complained of maltreatment by the Greek police and border guards. According to the Greek Helsinki Monitor, twenty-nine Albanians have been missing since March, when they were reportedly arrested by the Greek police.
Greece=s Roma population, the country=s most marginalized group, faced police abuse and discrimination in housing and education in 1996. In February, the police maltreated a group of Roma in the Aspropyrgos neighborhood of Athens. Two ethnic Albanian groups, Chams and Arvanites, also complained of state discrimination.
Early 1996 saw a series of riots in Greek prisons. Inmates complained about unsafe and unhygienic conditions.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights groups encountered difficulties from the state in 1996. In August and September, state security forces followed a Greek Helsinki Monitor and Danish Helsinki Committee delegation to minority villages in Thrace, as well as a Greek Helsinki Monitor meeting with a Macedonian activist in Florina. The family of a Greek Helsinki Monitor activist was harassed by the secret police, who wanted to know about her work. Minority leaders and human rights activists who defended their rights were often slandered in the media.
The Role of the International Community
In September, the European Parliament released a critical human rights report on Greece that cited the imprisonment of conscientious objectors and restrictions on religious freedom, minority rights and freedom of expression. In 1996, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for violations of religious freedom because the state had closed a place of worship of the Jehovah=s Witnesses, which had been built without authorization.
The United States
Relations between the United States and Greece remained friendly throughout 1996, although the State Department=s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 did highlight a number of human rights concerns. Greek President Stephanopoulos was greeted warmly by President Clinton when he visited the United States in May. The U.S. also helped mediate a settlement in January between Greece and Turkey over the disputed Imia islet.