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(London) – The public prosecutor in Greece should act swiftly to investigate allegations that police tortured protesters detained at the Attica General Police Directorate (GADA), Human Rights Watch said today. The Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection should also conduct a prompt, thorough, and independent investigation.

An article in The Guardian newspaper on October 9, 2012 quoted members of two separate groups of protesters, arrested in Athens on September 30 and October 1, describing brutal treatment in custody. The alleged abuse included beatings, forced public nudity, burning detainees with cigarettes and spitting on them, and sexual insults directed at a woman detainee. The victims, all of whom are now out on bail, have filed a criminal complaint.

“The scenes described by the victims to reporters are deeply shocking,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “No one should be treated that way by the police. Greece needs to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of their allegations and bring anyone found responsible for mistreating the detainees to justice.”

The minister of public order and citizen protection, Nikos Dendias, has said that the courts are handling the matter and that he cannot intervene. A spokesman for the Hellenic Police told The Guardian that, “There was no use of force by police officers against anyone in GADA…There is no doubt that the Greek police always respect human rights and don't use violence.” Dendias has not yet responded to a parliamentary question submitted by the opposition party Syriza on October 2 asking whether his ministry would open an internal investigation.

Greece does not have fully independent accountability mechanisms for law enforcement abuse, Human Rights Watch said. An office established in late 2010 in the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection to address complaints of misconduct is not yet operational and has a limited mandate, prompting the UN Committee Against Torture in June to express concerns and recommendations to strengthen the mechanism.

The alleged victims were arrested after participating in two demonstrations. The first, on September 30, was an anti-racism protest organized after a Tanzanian community center was attacked and damaged by a group of 30 to 40 people near Aghios Panteleimonas in central Athens on September 25. Police arrested 15 demonstrators after what the authorities described as clashes with members of the right-wing political party Golden Dawn and local residents. They were charged with disturbing the peace with concealed faces (an aggravated offense) and grievous bodily harm.

The second demonstration, on October 1, was held outside an Athens court in support of the 15 protesters arrested the day before. Clashes erupted as a group of protesters allegedly threw objects, including stones, at police officers. Twenty-five people were detained.

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