Amnesty International has accused Greek police of using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to impose general bans on protests and use excessive force to suppress peaceful demonstrations.
Street protests are common in Greece, and several have taken place across the country despite lockdowns and bans on issues ranging from a new labor law to Israeli attacks on Gaza or anarchist hunger strike.
Amnesty said that from November 2020 to March, Greek police used “arbitrary arrests, general bans, unreasonable fines and unlawful use of force.”
“Governments have no carte blanche to restrict human rights, even during a pandemic,” the international advocacy group said in a report released Wednesday.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the report and said a response would be released in due course.
Citing interviews with protesters, Amnesty said the authorities “unnecessarily used water cannons and chemical irritants” such as tear gas.
It says some protesters told Amnesty that police beat them on the head with truncheons and used flashbangs in a way that could cause serious injury, including hearing problems.
Cases have been recorded attacks on journalists incl. causing them physical and material damage (beatings and damaged photo and video cameras).
Police have also used unlawful force to verify compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, Amnesty said, referring to incident in marchwhen a police officer was removed from office for beating a man in a suburb of Athens. The incident sparked protests against police violence.
The government introduced several prohibitionsto contain the spread of the virus since the start of the pandemic, which has restricted the movement of those going to or returning from work, shopping for food or medicine, or visiting a doctor.
Fines were generously issued to violators. Over the period from the end of March 2020 to March 9, 2021, when, after the protests, the authorities decided to weaken punitive measures against the population for violations of the curfew and mask regime, according to various estimates, more than 100 thousand fines were issued for a total amount of at least 90 million euros. …
Most of the individuals who were issued fines refused to pay them, hoping that after the quarantine the fines would be canceled, but the fined entrepreneurs were forced to pay so that the selected licenses for their activities would be returned to them.
According to independent journalists, at least 40% of the amount of fines goes directly to the police, who conduct an inspection, which is a violation of international norms, as it provokes inspectors to abuse and partial attitude towards real and potential violators.