Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy with an independent judiciary in which citizens choose their representatives in free and fair elections. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) holds a majority of parliamentary seats, and its leader, Constantine Simitis, has been Prime Minister since 1996. The New Democracy Party is the main opposition party.
The national police and security services are responsible for internal security. Civilian authorities maintain effective control of all security forces, and police and security services are subject to a broad variety of restraints. Some members of the police and security forces committed human rights abuses.
Greece has a market economy with a large public sector that accounts for roughly 40 percent of gross domestic product. Residents enjoy a relatively advanced standard of living. European Union subsidies, grants, and loans, the latter two directed mainly toward major infrastructure projects, reinforce government economic development efforts.
The Government respected the human rights of most citizens, but problems remain in some areas. Security force personnel sometimes abused suspects during arrests and interrogations and abused illegal aliens. The Government continued to take corrective action to relieve severe overcrowding and harsh living conditions in some prisons. It continued to use Article 19 of the Citizenship Code to revoke the citizenship of Greek citizens who are not ethnically Greek, and Article 20 of the same code was used to revoke the citizenship of some Greek citizens abroad who asserted a "Macedonian" ethnicity. On occasion the Government placed international and domestic human rights monitors, non-Orthodox religious groups, and minority groups under surveillance.
Some restrictions on freedom of religion persisted; the Government investigated and arrested members of non-Orthodox religions for proselytism. Discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. The Government formally recognizes only the Muslim minority specified in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. It refuses to acknowledge formally the existence of any other ethnic groups, principally Slavophones, under the term "minority." As a result, some individuals who define themselves as members of a minority find it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings.
In February a policeman was charged with homicide for killing an Albanian migrant in Kastoria who was a passenger in a car that failed to stop when police flagged it down. In April a policeman was convicted of manslaughter and exceeding the limits of self- defense for shooting and killing a man who did not stop for a routine identity check. This marked the first time a policeman has been convicted for such an offense in Greece. There were several reports of shootings on the Greek-Albanian border during the period of armed unrest in the latter country. An indeterminate number of deaths resulted; the incidents were investigated by local officials.
In October a policeman shot and killed an Albanian illegal immigrant who allegedly resisted arrest in Thessaloniki. The policeman claimed that the shooting was accidental.
In 1996 a Romani man was shot and killed by a police officer while lying face down on the pavement at a police roadblock in Livadia. The officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The case was pending at year's end.
Shipyard owner Constantine Peratikos was shot to death by masked assailants in May. The "November 17" terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the killing.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution specifically forbids torture, and a 1984 law makes the use of torture an offense punishable by a sentence of 3 years' to life imprisonment. This law has never been invoked. However, security force personnel sometimes abused suspects during arrests and interrogations and abused illegal aliens.
Six Albanian immigrants reported that police entered their house and beat them in January. A traffic policeman was suspended from duty in January for attacking a driver in central Athens. An Albanian illegal immigrant was reportedly shot and wounded by police in February; an internal police investigation cleared the policeman and the prosecutor declined to press charges. In March three policemen in the town of Amfikleia stood trial on charges of beating, torturing, and robbing a group of Indian and Pakistani immigrants. Other credible reports of severe beatings of detainees exist.
An Evia man filed assault charges against policemen in November 1996 for allegedly attacking him after he visited a police station to pick up a legal document.
In the 1996 case of a man beaten by five policemen in Iraklion, four of the officers were suspended from duty for 15 days. Charges filed by the individual were still pending. The prosecutor dropped a case relating to a man who died in a Vyron police detention center in 1996 after concurring with the internal investigation, which concluded that the man had died of a heart attack. Charges are still pending from a 1996 incident in Thessaloniki in which a man charged with robbery was allegedly beaten by police officers.
Conditions in some prisons remained poor due to substantial overcrowding and outdated facilities. The largest prison housed 1,127 inmates, more than double its official capacity, through the first 9 months of the year. As of September 1, the Ministry of Justice reported that the total prison population was 5,477 (of whom approximately 2,150 were foreigners), while total capacity of the prison system was 4,332.
No credible reports emerged of abuses in prisons. In October 80 to 100 illegal immigrants held in the Drapetsona police detention facility staged a hunger strike to protest their detention. The Ministry of Justice expanded the prison construction program announced in 1996 to include a total of seven new facilities. Construction on several of the facilities began during the year.
No Albanian prisoners were repatriated under the 1995 bilateral agreement between Greece and Albania due to the civil unrest that prevailed in Albania for much of the year.
The Government is inconsistent in granting permission for prison visits by nongovernmental organizations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution requires judicial warrants for all arrests, except during the actual commission of a crime, and the law prohibits arbitrary arrest orders. Police must, by law, bring a person arrested on the basis of a warrant or while committing a crime before an examining magistrate within 24 hours. The magistrate must issue a detention warrant or order the release of the detainee within 3 days, unless special circumstances require a 2-day extension of this time limit.
Defendants brought to court before the end of the day following the commission of a charged offense may be tried immediately, under a "speedy procedure." Although legal safeguards, including representation by counsel, apply in speedy procedure cases, the short period of time may inhibit the defendant's ability to present an adequate defense. Defendants may ask for a delay to provide time to prepare their defense, but the court is not obliged to grant it. The speedy procedure was used in less than 10 percent of misdemeanor cases. It does not apply to felonies.
The effective maximum duration of pretrial detention is 18 months for felonies and 9 months for misdemeanors. Defense lawyers complain that pretrial detention is overly long and overused by judges. A panel of judges may grant release pending trial, with or without bail. Pretrial detainees made up 31 percent of those incarcerated, contributing to overcrowding problems, according to government sources. A person convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to 2 years or less may, at the court's discretion, pay a fine in lieu of being imprisoned.
Exile is unconstitutional, and no cases have been reported since the restoration of democracy in 1974. However, Greek citizens not of ethnic Greek origin who travel outside the country may be deprived of their citizenship and refused readmittance to the country under Article 19 of the Citizenship Code. Article 20 of the Code permits the Government to strip citizenship from those who "commit acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state." Article 19 was applied in 50 cases as of the 9 months ending in September; the Government would not provide statistics on the number of Article 20 cases it pursued in 1997 (see Section 2.d.).]
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary; recurring public charges suggest that judges sometimes allow political criteria, including the desire to obtain promotion, to influence their judgments.
The judicial system includes three levels of courts, appointed judges, an examining magistrate system, and trial by judicial panels.
The Constitution provides for public trials, and trial court sessions are open to the public, unless the court decides that privacy is required to protect victims and witnesses, or the cases involve national security matters. According to defense attorneys, the latter provision has not been invoked since the restoration of democracy in 1974. The defendant enjoys a presumption of innocence, the standard of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to present evidence and call witnesses, the right of access to the prosecution's evidence, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to counsel. Lawyers are provided to defendants who are not able to afford legal counsel only in felony cases. Both the prosecution and the defense have the right of appeal.
Non-Greek speaking defendants have the right to a court-appointed interpreter; however, the low fees paid for such work often result in poor translation. Foreign defendants who depend on these interpreters frequently complain that they do not understand their trials.
The legal system does not discriminate against women or minorities, with some exceptions: Article 19 of the Citizenship Code (see Section 2.d.) applies only to Greek citizens who are not ethnically Greek; the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs may base its decision on "house of prayer" permit applications by non-Orthodox groups on the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop (see Section 2.c.); non-ethnic Greek citizens are legally prohibited from settling in a large "supervised zone" near the frontier (although this prohibition is not enforced in practice); and a 1939 law (also not enforced in practice) prohibits the functioning of private schools in buildings owned by non-Orthodox religious foundations.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits invasion of privacy and searches without warrants, and the law permits the monitoring of personal communications only under strict judicial controls. However, the number of persons and groups subjected to government surveillance in recent years raises questions about the efficacy of these safeguards.
The security services continued to monitor human rights activists, non-Orthodox religious groups, minority group representatives, and foreign diplomats who met with such individuals. On several occasions, information about such private meetings was published by the press. Human rights activists also reported the continuation of suspicious openings and diversions of mail. As far as is known, the Government took no steps to stop such practices or to prosecute those involved.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice, but with exceptions. Legal restrictions on free speech remain in force and were used in some cases by the Government.
Articles of the Penal Code that can be used to restrict free speech and the press include Article 141, which forbids exposing the friendly relations of the Greek state with foreign states to danger of disturbance; Article 191, which prohibits spreading false information and rumors liable to create concern and fear among citizens and cause disturbances in the country's international relations and inciting citizens to rivalry and division, leading to disturbance of the peace; and Article 192, which prohibits inciting citizens to acts of violence or to disturbing the peace through disharmony among them. No one was imprisoned as a result of such charges during the year. Those convicted in the past were allowed to convert their convictions into a fine of approximately $14 per day
In December Article 191 charges were filed against a Vlach man by New Democracy M.P. Evgenios Haitidis after an incident in 1995 in which the man was seen distributing a brochure of the European Union's Bureau for Lesser Used Languages that listed several dialects spoken in Greece.
The public prosecutor in Florina has invoked these laws on several occasions in recent years in attempts to limit the Rainbow Party's use of Slavic names for Greek towns. In October the trial of four officers of the Rainbow Party was postponed until 1998. The charges under Article 192 arose from a 1995 riot over a bilingual sign hung outside party headquarters in Florina. The case of a Rainbow Party official charged in 1996 under Article 191 for attempting to bring wall calendars into the country that identified Greek cities by their Slavic names is scheduled to be heard in 1998 as well.
On matters other than the question of ethnic minorities, Greece generally enjoys a tradition of outspoken public discourse and a vigorous free press. Satirical and opposition newspapers routinely attack the highest state authorities. Members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities freely publish periodicals and other publications, often in their native language. The Constitution allows for seizure (though not prior restraint), by order of the public prosecutor, of publications that insult the President, offend religious beliefs, contain obscene articles, advocate violent overthrow of the political system, or disclose military and defense information. Seizures have been rare, however; none occurred in 1997.
In June two journalists were charged with "espionage" for printing a classified government document believed to have been leaked by government officials. The examining magistrate imposed $7,000 (2 million drachmas) bail for each of the journalists and a travel ban based on "demonstrable proof of guilt." The case is ongoing.
In July two journalists were each sentenced to 33 months in prison for "malicious defamation" of Minister of Justice Evangelos Yiannopoulos. The criminal charges were filed by the public prosecutor based on a complaint from Yiannopoulos regarding a series of articles published in July and September 1996 that questioned his participation in the resistance during the Greek civil war.
In 1996 Muslim journalist Abdulhalim Dede was charged under Article 191 and libel laws for an article he wrote about extremist groups in Thrace. In February he was acquitted of violating Article 191 but sentenced to 10 months in prison for libel. In July an appeals court reduced the sentence to 6 months with a 3-year suspension. Dede appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which had not ruled by year's end.
The Constitution provides that the state exercise "immediate control" over radio and television. The state monopoly on radio and television ended in 1989 and a plethora of private stations quickly emerged. A 1995 law places ownership and technical frequency limits on the electronic media. Until 1997 radio and television stations operated either without licenses or with provisional licenses, usually issued by local authorities. Licensing of radio stations began in late 1996, but the process of licensing television stations only began in September. State-run stations tended to emphasize the Government's views but also reported objectively on other parties' programs and positions. Private radio and television stations operated independently of any Government control over their reporting. Turkish-language television programs are widely available via satellite in Thrace.
The National Radio and Television Council (NRTC), a governmental organization, fined the Antenna Television Station $350,000 (100 million drachmas) and ordered it to suspend normal programming for 10 minutes daily for 5 days for "violating the code of ethics" and "not protecting juveniles." (The charges stemmed from an episode of an Antenna "reality show" that allegedly prompted a man charged with incest to commit suicide before the show was broadcast.) The Minister of Press and Mass Media approved the Council's decision in September. Antenna appealed the case to the Council of State, claiming that the NRTC acted in an extrajudicial manner and exceeded the limits of its statutory authority, which authorizes it to revoke or suspend licenses but is silent on other penalties.
The Government prosecuted radio Icik, a Turkish-language station in Komotini, for operating without a license in 1994 and 1995. At the trial in February, the station argued that operation of a station without a license was so common that prosecution of radio Icik was unfair. The judge postponed a decision in the case for 14 months, pending reform by Parliament of laws on radio licensing.
In March an appeals court judge dismissed charges brought against actor Vassilis Diamantopolous and professor George Roussis in 1996 for "praising a criminal act" in conjunction with their defense of rioting students on a television talk show. They were acquitted in 1996, but the public prosecutor appealed the decision.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. Police permits were routinely issued for public demonstrations, and there were no reports that the permit requirement was abused.
The Constitution provides for the right of association, which was respected except in cases involving ethnic minorities. In 1996 the European Court of Human Rights declared a case regarding the Government's refusal to register the "Macedonian Cultural Center" in Florina admissible. The European Court is scheduled to hear the case in 1998.
Government authorities legally recognize the existence of the Muslim minority, but not other minorities (see Section 5). This is contrary to the 1990 Copenhagen document of the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to which the Government is a signatory, which asserts that "to belong to a national minority is a matter of a person's individual choice."
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, to which 95 to 97 percent of the population at least nominally adhere, as the prevailing religion. The Orthodox Church wields significant political and economic influence. Although the Constitution provides for freedom of religion, non-Orthodox groups face legal limits on religious practice. The Constitution also prohibits proselytism. Two laws from the 1930's require that to hold services, "known" religious groups must obtain a "house of prayer" permit from the Ministry of Education and Religion, which by law may base its decision on the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop. No formal mechanism exists to seek recognition as a known religion.
In March an appeals court confirmed the 1996 conviction of Hara Kalomiri for operating a Bhuddist place of worship without a house of prayer permit.
Following a 1996 European Court of Human Rights decision (Manousakis et al vs. Greece) in which the Court ruled that aspects of the house of prayer authorization procedure were contrary to Article 9 of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Prime Minister Simitis ordered the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to draft new legislation to adapt Greek laws to international human rights norms. Although the legislation has not been finalized, Ministry officials say that they no longer obtain the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop when considering "house of prayer" permit applications. According to ministry officials, all pending applications have been issued.
Muslims who live in the Athens area, including immigrants from the Middle East and Greek citizens of Turkish origin originally from Thrace, complain that the Government has hindered their efforts to establish a mosque and a cemetery in the Athens area.
Several religious denominations reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Greek Orthodox Church are not routinely extended to other recognized religions. The non-Greek Orthodox must make separate and lengthy applications to government authorities on such matters as arranging appointments to meet with Ministry of Education and Religion officials and gaining permission to move places of worship to larger facilities.
A tax bill passed by Parliament in February created three new taxes on churches and other nonprofit organizations; "public legal entities" were exempted from the property tax requirement. The exemption of the Greek Orthodox Church, a public legal entity due to its official status, from the property tax led many observers to conclude that the legislation was discriminatory. Leaders of some non-Orthodox religious groups claimed that all the taxes were discriminatory, even those that the Orthodox Church had to pay, since the Government subsidized the Orthodox Church while other groups were self-supporting.
Religious instruction in public primary and secondary schools is mandatory for Greek Orthodox students. Non-Orthodox students are exempt from this requirement.
Police frequently detained Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Scientologists after receiving complaints that the individuals were engaged in proselytism. In most cases, the individuals were held for several hours at a police station and then released with no charges filed. Many reported that they were not allowed to call their lawyers and that they were verbally abused by police officers for their religious beliefs. Mormon church officials allege that police failed in June to intervene appropriately in two separate cases when missionaries were assaulted on the street in central Athens (see Section 5).
In December 1996, an Athens court revoked the operating permit of KEFE (now known as EKDS), the organization representing Scientologists in Greece, on a technicality. The group, which the Government does not recognize as a religion, has since obtained a new operating permit. The court's decision contained extensive criticism of Scientology's beliefs and practices; the Scientologists appealed the decision in order to have that language invalidated. Since October 1996 the Government has summoned 15 members of the boards of KEFE and EKDS to face charges of "unprovoked factual insult."
The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs launched an investigation into the activities of two teachers in Crete who are members of the Church of Christians, a nondenominational Protestant church. The men are under investigation for allegedly proselytizing their students and for "membership in a para-religious organization." In a letter to one of the men, a ministry official stated that the charges were based in part on a January episode of a sensationalist television program about the Church of Christians. The investigation was still underway at year's end.
In June Parliament passed a law providing an alternative form of mandatory national service for conscientious objectors. The law, which is to take effect in January 1998, provides that conscientious objectors may work in state hospitals or municipal services for 36 months. Conscientious objector groups generally characterized the legislation as a "positive first step" but criticized the 36-month alternative service term, which is double the regular 18-month period of military service.
Although Jehovah's Witnesses are recognized as a "known" religion, the military has consistently refused to exempt their clergy from mandatory military service. This practice was found to be in violation of Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by the European Court of Human Rights in two decisions reached in May, Tsirlis and Kouloumpas vs. Greece and Georgiadis vs. Greece. While the Government apparently has not yet changed its policy as a result of the Court's decisions, no such cases arose during the year.
Mosques operate freely in Western Thrace and in the islands of Rhodes and Kos, where most Greek citizens of the Muslim faith reside. In Xanthi province 17 Muslims arrested in 1996 for ignoring a stop-work order against adding a minaret to their mosque were sentenced in January to 4 months in jail. In June an appeals court reduced the sentence to 2 months with a 3-year suspension. Renovation of the mosque stopped and the congregation was not allowed access to the site. The Government encouraged the builders to apply for an amended building permit including the minaret; the builders refused, claiming to have a valid permit that was not recognized due to discrimination. In October local officials allowed construction on the mosque to resume.
Under a 1990 presidential decree, the Government appointed two muftis (Islamic judges and religious leaders) and one assistant mufti in Greece, all resident in Thrace, based on the recommendations of a committee of local Muslim scholars, religious authorities, and community leaders. The Government argued that it must appoint muftis because, in addition to their religious duties, they perform judicial functions in many civil and domestic matters under Muslim religious law, for which the State pays them.
The Muslim minority remains divided on the mufti selection issue. Some Muslims accept the authority of the two officially appointed muftis; others have chosen two different muftis to serve their communities. In November and December, the Government convicted Mehmet Amin Aga, one of the unofficial muftis, of usurping the authority of the official mufti; Aga was convicted six times in 2 years of the same offense. The respective sentences were suspended pending appeal.
A 1980 law placed administration of the "wakfs" (Muslim charitable organizations) in the hands of the appointed muftis and their representatives. In response to objections from some Muslims that this arrangement weakens the financial autonomy of the wakfs and violates the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, a 1996 presidential decree put the wakfs under the administration of a committee for 3 years as an interim measure pending resolution of outstanding problems.
Some non-Greek Orthodox religious leaders assert that their followers face discrimination in reaching the senior ranks of government service. In the military, generally only members of the Greek Orthodox faith become officers, leading some members of other faiths to declare themselves Orthodox. Only two Muslim officers have advanced to the rank of reserve officer.
The Government took no further action to implement or repeal a 1991 law mandating that citizens declare their religion on new EU-standardized identity cards based on European Union (EU) standards, which could be used for internal EU travel. Current identity cards contain a space for religion which may be left blank.
On December 16, the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that Greek courts had violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights by refusing to acknowledge that the Canea Catholic church in Crete had legal personality and therefore the standing to act in legal proceedings. The Court awarded the church $40,000 in court costs and damages. Human rights observers viewed the decision as a criticism of government policies toward non-Orthodox religions.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution calls for freedom of movement within and outside the country and the right to return. However, Article 19 of the Citizenship Code distinguishes between citizens who are ethnic Greeks and those who are not. Most Article 19 cases involve Muslims from Western Thrace, since only the "Muslim minority" is recognized as having non-Greek ethnicity. Citizens who are not ethnic Greeks may be deprived of their citizenship if it is determined that they left Greece with no apparent intent to return. Determination of intent is made without input from the affected individual; in practice, this law is applied to members of the Muslim community considered to be "undesirable" by the security services. However, immigrants who are ethnic Greeks are normally recognized as citizens and accorded full rights, despite years or even generations of absence.
The Interior Ministry initiates proceedings under Article 19 on the basis of reports by local authorities or by Greek embassies or consulates abroad. Affected persons are not notified of Article 19 hearings and are not permitted to attend. Those who lose citizenship as a result of such hearings sometimes learn of this loss only when they seek to reenter Greece. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 50 persons lost Greek citizenship under Article 19 as of September (compared with 84 at the same time in 1996). Of this number, the Government claims that 36 voluntarily relinquished their citizenship (compared with 35 in 1996). Recent Government statistics indicate that over 7,000 individuals were stripped of their citizenship between 1981 and 1996. Between 1981 and 1991, Article 19 was applied an average of 570 times per year; from 1992 to 1996, it was applied an average of 164 times per year.
Persons who lose their citizenship under Article 19 have the right of "administrative appeal" to the Interior Ministry; they can also appeal to the Council of State and to the Council of Europe. Leaders of the Muslim community complained that the time and expense involved tended to discourage such appeals. In addition some persons who lose their citizenship under Article 19 do not discover that fact until appeals deadlines have passed. Human rights observers report that an unspecified number of individuals, possibly as many as 2,000, who have been stripped of their citizenship under Article 19 actually live in Greece. As the Government has not issued the affected individuals any alternative form of identity document, they find it difficult or impossible to travel abroad and to obtain government services.
Another section of the Citizenship Code, Article 20, permits the Government to strip citizenship from those who "commit acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state." While the law as written applies equally to all Greeks regardless of ethnic background, to date it has been enforced only against citizens who identified themselves as members of the "Macedonian" minority. The Government would not reveal the number of Article 20 cases it pursued in 1997. Dual citizens who are stripped of Greek citizenship under Article 20 are frequently prevented from entering the country using the passport of their second nationality.
Greece maintains restricted military zones along its borders. Until 1995 authorities controlled entry into the zone along the northern border with Bulgaria even for local residents, causing the mostly Pomak inhabitants of the region to complain that their freedom of movement was restricted. The Government removed the sole remaining checkpoint into the village of Exinos in 1995 and no longer enforces the entry restrictions for citizens. Regulations concerning the zone remain in force for foreigners, however, and in 1997 several were refused official permission to enter the zone.
Ethnic Greek immigrants, including those who came from the former Soviet Union since 1986, normally qualify promptly for citizenship and special assistance from the Government. The returnees were settled initially in Western Thrace, where government programs encouraging them to remain have met with limited success. Most move to Athens, Thessaloniki, or other cities, where job prospects are better.
The Government offers asylum under the terms of the 1951 Geneva Convention. It cooperates with the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Parliament passed new legislation in 1996 amending the sections of the Aliens Act that relate to refugees and asylum. The legislation is scheduled to be implemented in 1998, after necessary presidential decrees are completed. The new legislation abolished the requirement that asylum seekers submit their applications immediately after entering the country.
Individuals recognized as refugees under the terms of the Geneva Convention are eligible for residence and work permits necessary to resettle permanently. In the first 8 months of 1997, 2,369 individuals submitted applications for refugee status, an almost three-fold increase over the corresponding period in 1996. Eighty-five individuals were recognized as refugees during the first 8 months of the year; of those refused refugee status, 38 were granted temporary residence on humanitarian grounds until return to their countries of origin becomes possible.
Credible reports indicated that the Government at times deported asylum seekers back to their country of origin before they could submit formal applications for asylum.
The Government does not recognize the concept of first asylum. Thousands of individuals from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran enter Greece illegally each year; only a small percentage eventually apply for official refugee status. Some of those who do not apply remain illegally, often living in government camps where conditions vary from adequate to very poor. Others proceed on to Western Europe, often applying for asylum there. The Government does not usually seek out such individuals for deportation; as Greece and Turkey do not have a readmission agreement, the Government finds it practically impossible to deport individuals who enter Greece from Turkey.
In June Greece and Albania exchanged instruments of ratification for the seasonal employment agreement signed in 1996 in an effort to regularize the status of the approximately 250,000 Albanians working illegally in Greece.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Greece is a multiparty democracy in which the Constitution provides for full political rights for all citizens and for the peaceful change of governments and of the Constitution. The Government headed by Prime Minister Constantine Simitis of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won in free and fair elections in September 1996. Parliament elects the President for a 5-year term. Voting is mandatory for those over age 18, but there are many conditions that allow one not to vote, and penalties are not applied in practice. Members of the unicameral 300-seat Parliament are elected to maximum 4-year terms by secret ballot. Opposition parties function freely and have broad access to the media.
Although there are no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in government or politics, representation of both at the higher levels of political life remains low. Women held 2 ministerial positions in the Government and only 1 of 29 subministerial positions. Of the 300 members of Parliament, 17 were women. Women are underrepresented in the leadership of the two largest parties. The head of the Communist Party is a woman.
While the Government generally respects citizens' political rights, there are sometimes charges that it limits the right of some individuals to speak publicly and associate freely on the basis of their self-proclaimed ethnic identity, thus impinging on the political rights of such persons. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, however, three Muslim deputies were elected in Thrace, one each from PASOK, New Democracy, and the Coalition of the Left. Romani representatives report that local authorities sometimes deprive Roma of the right to vote by refusing to register them.
In 1996 the Government transferred responsibility for oversight of all rights guaranteed to the Muslim minority under the Treaty of Lausanne (including education, zoning, administration of the wakfs, and trade) from elected local governors to the government-appointed periferiarch of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. The periferiarch is a regional administrative official appointed by the Government. Minority members charged that the transfer reduced their ability to use the democratic process to influence decisions that affect them. They also charged that the transfer opened the possibility of unequal application of local laws, because it created a situation in which Muslims and non-Muslims must go to different government offices to apply for documents such as building permits. The Government stated that it made the change because Greece's treaty obligations could be administered more effectively by the central authorities.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government allows domestic human rights organizations to operate, but cooperation with them varies. In principle it does not prohibit foreign diplomats from meeting with officials and other citizens, including critics of official policy. However, the security services on occasion monitor contacts of human rights groups, including listening in on conversations held between those groups and human rights investigators and diplomats. The security services have also questioned monitors' interlocutors in the aftermath of meetings, reports of which have subsequently appeared in the press. Official government documents regarding the activities of human rights monitors have also been cited in the press. Monitors view this activity as a form of intimidation that deters others from meeting with investigators.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equality before the law and the full protection of individual life, honor, and freedom irrespective of nationality, race, language, or religious or political belief. Government respect for these rights in practice is uneven.
The incidence of violence against women that is reported to the authorities is low, but Athens' Equality Secretariat, which operates the only shelter for battered women, believes the actual incidence is "high." According to the Ministry of Public Order, 183 cases of rape were reported in 1996 (latest statistics available). The General Secretariat for Equality of the Sexes (GSES), an independent government agency, asserts that police tend to discourage women from pursuing domestic violence charges and instead undertake reconciliation efforts, although they are neither qualified for nor charged with this task. The GSES also claims that the courts are lenient when dealing with domestic violence cases.
A government shelter and a residential facility for battered women and their children provide relevant services in Athens, including legal and psychological advice. Battered women can also go to state hospitals and regional health centers, although these facilities are often not adequately staffed to handle such cases properly.
According to the police, trafficking in women for prostitution, mostly from the former Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, has increased sharply in recent years. The MPO reports that of the 185 foreigners arrested for prostitution without a license in the first 9 months of 1997, 50 were from Albania and 78 were from the former Soviet Union. Police estimate that foreigners constitute 2,000 of the 5,000 prostitutes in Greece.
Women enjoy broad constitutional and legal protections, including equal pay for equal work. However, the GSES and the unions maintain that women receive lower salaries overall than men because they are hired for lower-level jobs. The National Statistical Service's most recent data (the fourth quarter of 1996) show that women's salaries in manufacturing were 69 percent of those of men in comparable positions; in retail sales, women's salaries were 85 percent of those of men in comparable positions. These same groups claim that women face a "glass ceiling" when they are considered for promotions in both the public and private sectors. Although there are still relatively few women in senior positions, in recent years women have entered traditionally male-dominated occupations such as the legal and medical professions in larger numbers.
The Government is committed to providing adequate basic health and education services for children. Education is compulsory through the ninth grade and free through university. Penal law prohibits the mistreatment of children and sets penalties for violators, while welfare legislation enacted in 1992 established preventive and treatment programs for abused children and for children deprived of a family environment; it also sought to ensure the availability of alternative family care or institutional placement.
Several government organizations have responsibility for children's issues. The National Welfare Organization, which has a nationwide network of offices, is active in the field of child protection. The General Secretariat for Youth, a part of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, is conducting a campaign to encourage social and political participation by the young and to promote the rights of children and youth.
According to the Institute of Child Health (ICH), a research center under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, physical punishment is widely regarded as a socially acceptable method of disciplining children. In a recent ICH study, 65% of mothers and 55% of fathers told surveyors that they punished their children physically. The use of such measures has decreased over the years as parents have learned about alternatives forms of punishment. There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.
No national data exist on the incidence rate of child abuse, as local authorities are not obligated to report such cases. In a 10-year clinical study of 200 cases, the ICH reports that 59.5% involved physical abuse, 20% involved neglect, and 21% involved children who were not abused at the time but had a history of abuse. (The study did not cover victims of sexual abuse.) An ICH prevalence study of child sexual abuse among 740 university students revealed an incidence rate of 7% among boys and 17% among girls prior to age 18. Societal abuse of children in the form of pornography and child labor is rare. Child prostitution is a growing phenomenon, particularly in some parts of central Athens.
Child health specialists say that some social groups, such as Roma and illegal immigrants, are underserved. Children's rights advocacy groups claim that protection of high-risk children in state residential care centers is inadequate and of low quality. They cite lack of coordination between welfare services and the courts, inadequate funding of the welfare system, and poor staffing of residential care centers as systemic weaknesses in child abuse prevention and treatment efforts. Child health specialists note that the number of children in residential care facilities is decreasing, while the number in foster care is rising.
In recent years, the number of street children who panhandle or peddle at city intersections on behalf of adult family members or for criminal gangs has increased. Many such street children in the Athens area are Albanian. Police occasionally round up these children and take them to state or charitable institutions that care for wayward children. Parents can reclaim their children but risk deportation if they are illegal immigrants.
People With Disabilities
Legislation mandates the hiring of disabled persons in public and private enterprises employing more than 50 persons. However, the law is reportedly poorly enforced, particularly in the private sector. The law states that disabled persons should number 3 percent of staff in private enterprises. In the civil service, 5 percent of administrative staff and 80 percent of telephone operator positions are reserved for disabled persons. Persons with disabilities have been appointed to important positions in the civil service.
The Construction Code mandates physical access for disabled persons to private and public buildings, but this law too is poorly enforced. Ramps and special curbs for the disabled have been constructed on some Athens streets and at some public buildings, and sound signals have been installed at some city street crossings. Since 1993 the Government has been replacing old city buses with new ones with stairs specially designed for the disabled. The new Athens subway lines under construction reportedly were designed to provide full access for the disabled.
In August the Council of State ruled that individuals who "explicitly state that they adhere to a dogma or religion the beliefs of which would prevent the fulfillment of their duties" can legally be excluded from the national fire brigade. Human rights observers criticized the decision as a dangerous precedent allowing religious discrimination in public sector hiring.
Jehovah's Witness leaders report that their members experienced difficulty obtaining permission to bury their dead in public cemeteries.
In June Mormon missionaries were assaulted by passersby in two incidents on the street in central Athens; police allegedly failed to intervene. Mormon church officials criticized the police response (see Section 2.c.).
In March a Jewish cemetery in Trikala was severely vandalized. Jewish community leaders report that the Ministry of Public Order at first declined to investigate the incident. An investigation was eventually launched that has produced no results to date. Leaders of the Jewish community have lobbied the Government for several years to delete anti-Semitic references from public school textbooks. The Ministry of Education and Religion agreed to delete all such references as new editions were published, and established a committee to identify such references. Only one of the six anti-Semitic references identified by the committee was deleted from the new textbook editions published in 1996.
There are communities that identify themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites (ethnic Albanians), and "Macedonians" or "Slavomacedonians." Most are fully integrated into society. The Government formally recognizes only the "Muslim minority" specified in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, applying the term to several different ethnic communities. Most of the Muslim minority (officially estimated at 120,000 persons) is ethnically Turkish or Turcophone and lives in Western Thrace. The Muslim minority also includes Pomaks and Roma. Many Greek Muslims, including Pomaks, identify themselves as Turks and say that the Muslim minority as a whole has a Turkish cultural consciousness. While use of the term "tourkos" ("Turk") is prohibited in titles of organizations, individuals may legally call themselves "tourkos." To most Greeks, the word "tourkos" connotes Turkish identity or loyalties, and many object to its use by Greek citizens of Turkish origin. Use of a similar adjective, "tourkoyennis" (of Turkish descent, affiliation, or ethnicity) is, however, allowed. In June a dozen Muslim teachers were each sentenced to 8 months in prison for using the term "Turkish teachers of Western Thrace" in signing a union document. Their sentences were suspended pending appeal.
The Treaty of Lausanne provides that the Muslim minority has the right to Turkish-language education, with a reciprocal entitlement for the Greek minority in Istanbul (now reduced to about 3,000). Western Thrace has both Koranic and secular Turkish-language schools. Government disputes with Turkey over teachers and textbooks caused these secular schools serious problems in obtaining faculty and teaching materials in sufficient number and quality. Under a 1952 educational protocol, Greece and Turkey may annually exchange 35 teachers on a reciprocal basis. The teachers serve in Istanbul and Western Thrace, respectively, but in recent years the Greek side limited the exchanges to 16 teachers per country due to the dwindling needs of the small and aging Greek population in Turkey. In Greece over 9,000 Muslim children attended Turkish-language primary schools. Approximately 650 attended Turkish-language secondary schools, and approximately 1,000 attended Greek-language secondary schools. Many Muslims reportedly went to high school in Turkey due to the limited number of places in the Turkish-language secondary schools, which are assigned by lottery.
In 1995 the Government enacted several measures designed to improve the educational situation of Muslims in Thrace. Incentives were created to encourage Muslim and Christian educators to reside and teach in isolated villages. The law also permits the Minister of Education to give special consideration to Muslims for admission to universities and technical institutes. The law required universities and technical institutes to create a certain number of places for Muslim students each year; in 1997, 334 spaces were available. The admission exams were taken by 120 Muslim students, and 114 were accepted into universities and technical schools. Minority sources indicate that the success rate of students accepted in 1996 was low.
The rate of employment of Muslims in the public sector and in state-owned industries and corporations is much lower than the Muslim percentage of the population. In Xanthi and Komotini, while Muslims hold seats on the prefectural and town councils, there are no Muslims among the regular employees of the prefecture. Muslims in Thrace claim that they are hired only for lower level, part-time work. The Government says that lack of fluency in written and spoken Greek and the need for university degrees for high-level positions limit the number of Muslims eligible for government jobs. In 1997, for the first time, a Muslim-owned company received one of the government subsidies offered to corporations establishing or expanding business operations in Thrace.
Public offices in Thrace do their business in Greek; the courts provide interpreters as needed. The office of the nomarch (governor) in Rodopi province, where many ethnic Turks live, has Turkish-language interpreters available. In November, however, a prosecutor in Rodopi ordered the Komotini registrar to stop accepting documents sealed by the government-appointed muftis unless the language of the documents is Greek. He also ordered the registrar to reject as unsealed any documents bearing the Arabic-lettered seals used by the muftis for the last 70 years.
Claims of discriminatory denial of Muslim applications for business licenses, tractor ownership, or property construction have diminished greatly in recent years. Development of basic public services (electricity, telephones, paved roads) in Muslim neighborhoods and villages, however, continues in many cases to lag far behind that of non-Muslim areas.
Other than in one multicultural education 'pilot school,' the Government does not provide instruction in Greek as a second language to Turcophone children in the Athens area. Muslim parents report that their children are unable to succeed in school as a result of this policy. The Government maintains that Muslims outside of Thrace are not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne and therefore do not enjoy those rights guaranteed by the treaty.
In February a group of youths threw rocks at a mosque in Rodopi province during prayers, causing minor damage. Four people were injured in the ensuing scuffle. The incident did not appear to be related to the organized anti-mosque violence of previous years. Authorities who investigated the incident attributed it to intoxicated juvenile delinquents. However, Muslims continued to face governmental and societal discrimination.
Members of the Muslim minority on the Dodecanese islands of Rhodes and Kos are much more integrated into local society.
Northern Greece is home to an indeterminate number (estimates range widely, from under 10,000 to 50,000 or more) of citizens who are descended from Slavophones. Some still speak a Slavic dialect, particularly in Florina province. A small number of them identify themselves as belonging to a distinct ethnic group, which they call "Macedonian," and assert their right to minority status. (these self-described ethnic "Macedonians" are hereafter referred to as "Macedonians.") This assertion generates strong objections among the 2.2 million ethnically and linguistically Greek inhabitants of the northern Greek region of Macedonia, who also use the term to identify themselves. The Government refuses to recognize the Slavic dialect as "Macedonian" and denies that it is a language distinct from Bulgarian. Government officials in Florina have used laws against "inciting rivalry and division" to block the use of Slavic place-names and other terms in public (see Section 2.a.) Greek sensitivity on this issue stems from concern that members of the "Macedonian" minority may have separatist aspirations. Greece's dispute with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over that country's name heightened this sensitivity.
Government harassment and intimidation of some of these people, which has included denying their right to association (see Section 2.b.), monitoring activists' meetings with human rights investigators (see Section 2.d.), and accusing activists publicly of being agents of a foreign Government, continues at a reduced level. Fear of loss of employment or other sanctions leads some Greeks who consider themselves "Macedonian" not to declare it openly. Activists also complain of limited access to the press, although there is no evidence that the Government pressures the media not to cover the issue.
Roma frequently face discrimination in employment and in housing, particularly when attempting to rent accommodations. They experience police abuse more frequently than some other groups, particularly when police raid entire Roma camps based on a warrant to arrest one individual.
The General Secretariat for Adult Education (GSAE), a government agency, estimated the Romani population to be 150,000 to 200,000 in 1997. Nonofficial sources estimate the total at 250,000 to 300,000. Most of the Roma in Western Thrace are Muslim; elsewhere, the majority are Greek Orthodox. Almost half are permanently settled, mainly in the Athens area. The other half are mobile, working mainly as agricultural laborers, peddlers, and musicians throughout the country. The GSAE reports that the number of Roma who move around the country is gradually decreasing as families settle into slums in the suburbs of major cities. Government policy is to encourage the integration of Roma. Poverty, illiteracy, and social prejudice continue to plague large parts of the Romani population; these problems are most severe among the Roma who are mobile or who live in slums. The GSAE conducts education and training programs for the Romani population. The illiteracy rate among Roma is estimated at 80 percent. The Ministry of Education established a system of identity cards designed to permit students to change schools easily as their parents move and is developing a system of satellite schools for Romani settlements.
The integration of Roma into public social security systems is quite low. It is estimated that 90 percent of Roma are not insured by the public social security systems, as they are unable or unwilling to make the required contributions. Like all Greek citizens, the Roma are entitled to free emergency health care. Their access to health care is at times hindered by the fact that their encampments are located far from public health facilities.
In April the mayor of Ano Liossia ordered the eviction of 100 Romani families living on private land next to the landfill that serves the greater Athens area. According to human rights observers and Roma, the residents were given only a few hours notice to remove their possessions before bulldozers leveled their shacks. Roma claim that there had been a Romani encampment on the site for 15 years and criticized the short notice and apparently arbitrary nature of the eviction.
Projects announced in 1996 to improve Romani living conditions have not yet been implemented. The Prime Minister has designated a member of his staff to coordinate the efforts of all government ministries having a role in the integration of Roma.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution and subsequent legislation provide for the right of association. All workers, with the exception of the military, have the right to form or join unions. Police have the right to form unions but not to strike.
Approximately 30 percent of workers (nearly 1 million persons) were organized in unions. Unions receive most of their funding from a Ministry of Labor organization, the Workers' Hearth, which distributes mandatory contributions from employees and employers. Workers, employers, and the state are represented in equal numbers on the board of directors of the Workers' Hearth. Only the five most powerful public sector unions have dues-withholding provisions in their contracts, in addition to receiving Workers' Hearth subsidies.
Over 4,000 unions are grouped into regional and sectoral federations and two umbrella confederations, one for civil servants and one, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), for private sector employees. Unions are highly politicized, and there are party-affiliated factions within the labor confederations, but day-to-day operations are not controlled by political parties or the Government. There are no restrictions on who may serve as a union official.
Legal restrictions on strikes include a mandatory period of notice, which is 4 days for public utilities and 24 hours for the private sector. Legislation mandates a skeleton staff during strikes affecting public services, such as electricity, transportation, communications, and banking. Public utility companies, state-owned banks, the postal service, Olympic Airways, and the railroads are also required to maintain a skeleton staff during strikes.
The courts have the power to declare strikes illegal, although such decisions are seldom enforced. Unions complain, however, that this judicial power serves as a deterrent to some of their membership from participating in strikes. In 1997 the courts declared a majority of strikes illegal for reasons such as failure of the union to give adequate advance notice of the strike, or the addition of demands by the union during the course of the strike. No striking workers were prosecuted, however.
Unions are free to join international associations and maintain a variety of international affiliations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Legislation provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively in the private sector and in public corporations. These rights are respected in practice. There are no restrictions on collective bargaining for private sector employees. The union of civil servants negotiates with the Office of the Minister to the Prime Minister.
In response to union complaints that most labor disputes ended in compulsory arbitration, legislative remedies were enacted in 1989 providing for mediation procedures, with compulsory arbitration as a last resort. The legislation establishing a national mediation, reconciliation, and arbitration organization went into effect in 1992 and applies to the private sector and public corporations (the military and civil service excluded).
Antiunion discrimination is prohibited. The labor inspectorate or a court investigates complaints of discrimination against union members or organizers. Court rulings have mandated the reinstatement of improperly fired union organizers.
Three free trade zones operate according to European Union regulations. The labor laws apply equally in these zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits all forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, and the Ministry of Justice enforces this prohibition. However, the Government may declare the "civil mobilization" of workers in the event of danger to national security, life, property, or the social and economic life of the country. The International labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts has criticized this power as violating the standards of ILO Convention 29 on forced labor.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Constitution contains a blanket prohibition of compulsory labor. Although no specific legislation explicitly prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, such practices are not known to occur. The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15, with higher limits for certain activities. The minimum age is 12 in family businesses, theaters, and the cinema. These age limits are enforced by occasional Labor Inspectorate spot checks and are generally respected. However, families engaged in agriculture, food service, and merchandising often have younger family members assisting them, at least part time.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Collective bargaining between the GSEE and the Employers' Association determines a nationwide minimum wage. The Ministry of Labor routinely ratifies this minimum wage, which has the force of law and applies to all workers. The minimum wage of $22 (Dr 6,000) daily and $ 495 (Dr 133,962) monthly, effective July 1, is sufficient for a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours in the private sector and 37 1/2 hours in the public sector. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of 1 month per year, and sets limits on overtime.
Legislation provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety. Although the GSEE characterized health and safety legislation as satisfactory, it charged that enforcement, the responsibility of the Labor Inspectorate, was inadequate. The ILO urged the Government to put the Labor Inspectorate under central authority in order to comply with ILO Convention 81. Workers do not have the legal right to remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health. They do have the right, however, to lodge a confidential complaint with the Labor Inspectorate. Inspectors have the right to close down machinery or a process for a period of up to 5 days if they see safety or health hazards that they believe represent an imminent danger to the workers.
[end of document]
Return to 1997 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.