Are the Greek Government Willing to Make a Martyr Out of a Hunger-Striking Anarchist?
Thousands participate in a solidarity motorcycle protest for Kostas Sakkas.
Last Friday, around 1,200 people rode through Athens on motorcycles. They started their bike rally from the downtown area of the city and ended in the southern suburbs, where 29-year-old Kostas Sakkas – an anarchist and suspected member of the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei anarchist organisation (CFN) – is being treated in hospital. The rally was the latest in many public acts of solidarity with Sakkas, who has been on hunger strike for over a month in protest against the Greek state detaining him without trial for over two and a half years.
One of the messages being shouted during the rally was, "The state kills!" Those shouting it might not be wrong; Sakkas is now on his 35th day of hunger strike – the second hunger strike he's undertaken within a year – and is at serious risk of suffering permanent damage to his health or even dying, as his doctor Olga Kosmopoulou stated in a recent press announcement. However, it still appears that the Greek judicial system would rather have Sakkas force-fed in a hospital unit than award him a fair trial.
Sakkas was arrested in December, 2010 outside an apartment that had been uncovered as a CFN hideout and contained a number of guns. After his arrest, he was charged with aggravated possession of weapons and belonging to a terrorist organisation. Both Sakkas and the CFN have denied the fact that he was ever a member of the extreme anarchist organisation, but Sakkas has admitted to having a connection with the hideout and the weapons found there (although he maintains they never belonged to him). His connection with the CFN, he said, lies purely in the fact that he identifies politically as an anarchist.
The maximum length of time Sakkas could be held before his trial expired 18 months after he was arrested, in the summer of 2012, but it was extended by another year to June 2013. After that limit ran out, a court of appeals in Athens ordered that Sakkas' detention be extended by another six months, taking the total time to 36 months – firmly stepping outside Greece's maximum pre-trial detention limit of 18 months, or 30 months in extremely rare cases.
Since the ordeal started, the only thing Sakkas has asked for is to be taken to trial. He wrote on May the 29th, 2013, “I decided to go on hunger strike [on the 4th of June]; the date when, according to the current laws, the maximum time limit of my pre-trial custody is expired. I would like to clarify that, for me, the choice to go on hunger strike is not a gesture of despair, but a choice to continue the fight, a fight that my comrades and I have made since the first moment of our captivity; a resistance to the unprecedented and vindictive treatment of the judicial mechanisms, which decided, in our case, to take a break from their cash collection duties to defend society from its supposed enemies and the laws from the outlaws.”
And, true to his word, Sakkas went on hunger strike for the second time during his incarceration on June the 4th. Later that month, on June the 25th, a judicial council rejected Sakkas' appeal to end the pre-trial custody for a second time, prompting a series of complaints from NGOs, like the Greek Association for Human Rights (EEDA), and raising questions from the main political opposition party, SYRIZA.
A banner reading, "Freedom to the hunger striker Kostas Sakkas. Solidarity is our weapon."
Marina Daliani, Sakkas' lawyer, told me that, "Sakkas' case is built upon a series of diversions from the rule of law – the Greek judicial system [has been] slipping during the past few years. [After] Sakkas' case, the judicial system [has taken] the final step towards full illegality.”
Continuing, she said, “Two months before his pre-trial custody ended, Sakkas was accused again of a different case of terrorism, so his detention was extended for another six months. The irony is that, in this second case, you won’t find his name mentioned – not even once in its voluminous files.”
I also spoke to Kleio Papandoleon, a lawyer for EEDA, who said, "The judicial authorities will either take a person to trial within the constitutionally defined limits or take responsibility for their ineffectiveness and pay the cost by setting them free. Thirty months are more than enough time for a court to judge a case of terrorism, which is considered to be urgent or important. The judicial system is drifting to authoritarian methods [and] punishing Sakkas without a trial.”
According to SYRIZA, the problem isn't just Sakkas, but the general status of human rights in the country. The party claim that Sakkas' case is sending the country back 16 years to when it was denounced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for committing similar offences. In fact, it was because of that era that measures were taken to ensure that Greece would provide fair trials for all rather than exercising justice with differing levels of vengeance on a case-by-case basis.
However, instead of addressing the fact that they're completely ignoring Sakkas' human rights, New Democracy – the ruling party – issued a statement accusing SYRIZA of supporting “each and every one accused of anarchy and terrorism”.
While all of this is playing out on the political field, Sakkas' health is quickly deteriorating. According to a public report issued by his doctor, Sakkas has lost 15 percent of his body mass, cannot move and is in an extremely fragile condition, running the risk of a fatal heart attack at any moment.
“After 25 days of hunger strike, all risks are high and a sudden death is possible. It's inhumane to judge according to his health’s sturdiness,” said Dr Olga Kosmopoulou. “When one goes on a hunger strike, he or she is risking a death sooner than other people because he or she is putting their health under that test, and Sakkas is doing it for the second time in a year.”
Someone close to Sakkas, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, claimed that Sakkas informed his friends and family that he'll continue with his hunger strike and even progress to a thirst strike if it comes to it, aiming to remain consistent in his protest. Sakkas sees the hunger strike as a continuation of his political struggle against the state and it seems, at this stage, that he is willing to make himself a martyr to that struggle.
The hospital where Sakkas is being held while on his hunger strike.
On June the 29th, a solidarity demonstration for Sakkas took place in Athens. The march attracted over 6,000 people and passed through central Athens, but the Greek media failed to report anything on the protest whatsoever. However, since then, an internet petition for Sakkas' release has been set up, attracting more than 3,000 signatures in its first day.
The government have been widely accused of double standards here. Many have noted the case of Epaminondas Korkoneas, the policeman who killed 15-year-old anarchist schoolboy Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a murder that sparked the December 2008 riots. Although Korkoneas was eventually sentenced to life, he was temporarily released during his trial as his own pre-trial detainment limit had expired. And this was after a charge for a murder that sent an entire city into violent pandemonium – not, like Sakkas, for merely being associated with anarchism (it should also be remembered that anarchism in itself isn't illegal, even if the Greek judicial treatment is treating it as such).
As early as next week, a judicial council will judge Sakkas’ parole request for the third time, but the district attorney has already called on the council to issue yet another denial. If the council listens to the DA and continues to defy the law, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that riots will erupt yet again in the streets of Athens.
Papandoleon, the EEDA lawyer, told me, "While Greece is eager to comply with the European demands to cutting wages and pensions, it resists strongly when it comes to adjusting to European principles in justice, human and democratic rights.” Sakkas' lawyer, Marina Daliani added, depressingly, "For me and Sakkas, it’s a fight over time. But for the Greek judicial system, I’m afraid it’s too late.”
Follow Matthaios on Twitter: @tsimitakis
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