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Discrimination against Roma in Greece took center stage in 2000 as Roma rights were considered in a special session at the United Nations and in European institutions. Harassment and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities remained issues of concern as the government's plan to remove the bearer's religion from state-issued identity cards focused public attention on entrenched intolerance of religious minorities. Criminal prosecutions of journalists continued under Greece's draconian libel laws.

Greece's Policy Framework for Roma failed to meet most of its objectives, according to a 2000 implementation review by the government. Illegal evictions and police abuse against Roma continued unabated. Citing police raids on settlements near Athens, rights groups charged the government with "cleansing" greater Athens of Roma to build sports facilities for the 2004 Olympics. In July, a municipal bulldozer, accompanied by the mayor and police, demolished numerous Roma huts in the Athens Aspropyrgos suburb. Greek and Albanian Roma families in the settlement-situated on a garbage dump-were ordered to leave within three days. The Greek ombudsman, tasked with investigating complaints of human rights abuses, contacted Aspropyrgos Municipality questioning the eviction's legality, but his communication was ignored. The eviction of Roma tent dwellers in the upper part of the dump occurred prior to the Aspropyrgos operation when the mayor of Ano Liosia offered Roma families 100,000 drachmas (U.S.$266) to leave and then leveled their huts.

Municipal councils continued to issue orders for the eviction of Roma communities. In October 1999, the Rio council voted to evict all Roma for alleged criminality, poor hygiene, and trespassing. A December 1999 meeting spearheaded by rights groups resulted in a halt to evictions until prefecture authorities could provide satisfactory alternative housing. In May 2000, the municipal council in Nea Kios decided to evict all Roma in the area. On May 25, armed police raided local Roma settlements and ill-treated residents, including the beatings of two teenage boys and the denial of medical treatment to their ill father. The family, along with three nephews and an ailing elderly Roma woman, was accused of "stealing electricity" and detained. The detainees were not informed of their rights or permitted to make phone calls, and were denied food and blankets offered by family members. The ombudsman lodged a complaint with municipal authorities.

Human rights activists and politicians were denied access to Nea Kios on June 8 by "citizen brigades" that blocked the streets in the presence of police officers and harassed journalist Panos Lambrou of Epochi. Subsequently, non-Roma citizens torched a Roma hut and shot a Roma youth. Protests by rights groups led to a June 16 Ministry of Justice decision to investigate allegations of police abuse in Nea Kios. The police raided a Roma settlement by the River Gallikos in Salonica on July 6 in search of drugs, weapons, and criminal suspects. One hundred Roma were detained but no drugs or weapons were found. The Prefecture of Salonica denounced the racist character of the police operation. In May and August respectively, the councils of Nea Tiryntha and Midea called for the eviction of all Roma from their municipalities.

Police continued to enjoy impunity for abuses targeting Roma. In March, a Salonica court dismissed charges against three police officers for the April 1998 killing of Angelos Celal, holding that the officers acted in legitimate self-defense. Celal was unarmed and shot from behind. Human rights groups lodged an unsuccessful appeal requesting that the prosecutor challenge the court's ruling.

In May 2000, the government decided to remove from state-issued identity cards the bearer's religion, a labeling that has facilitated the discriminatory treatment of religious minorities. Human rights groups hailed the decision as a step toward eliminating entrenched religious discrimination. In October 1999, a mob led by the mayor attempted to halt construction of a Jehovah's Witness building in Kasandra. Two journalists were beaten, and representatives of the ombudsman's office and the Jehovah's Witnesses were harassed. Subsequently, the mayor was indicted for incitement to religious hatred but was never arrested or tried. Mehmet Emin Aga, mufti of Xanthi, was convicted in May for "pretense of authority" for assuming the leadership of a minority Muslim group, despite a December 1999 European Court of Human Rights decision against Greece in a similar case (see below).

In November 1999, two journalists for Eleftherotypia were indicted for defamation under Greece's libel laws for allegations that the Lesvos police were associated with smugglers. An Athens court convicted Dimitris Rizos, publisher of Adesmeftos Typos, in December 1999, on a charge of aggravated defamation of the publisher of another newspaper with the same name. In March 2000, a renowned violinist and a composer were given prison sentences for defamation based on statements made during newspaper interviews.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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