Athens, Greece – As the American court system cracks down on anti-Trump protesters, two opposing stories of political prisoners rock Athens, Greece. On July 7, in an extraordinary victory for anti-authoritarian and anarchist movements, 34-year-old Tasos Theofilou won his appeal and was released from prison after serving nearly five years of a twenty five year sentence for armed robbery. On the other side of the coin, Irianna, a 29-year-old Greek PhD student, who is said to not be politically involved at all, is set to serve thirteen years in prison for being found guilty on weapons charges and of membership in a state-banned ‘urban guerrilla’ anarchist group.
Unicorn Riot spoke with Greek activist and writer Panagiotis Koustas about both of these high profile ‘terrorist’ cases and the Greek state’s repression of political dissent. Koustas says that “Greece has a very long tradition in framing anarchists with charges that are fictional, and most of the times very badly written charges by police officers that are horrible fiction writers.”
For more context and history of Greek state repression and further conversation with Panagiotis Koustas, read Political Prisoners Part 2 – Targeting of Anarchists & Autonomous Groups
Koustas notes that Greeks believe the cases of Tasos and Irianna (and Perikles) are “experimental ones” that will pave the way for further repression on “self-organized groups,” and that through this repression, the Greek state is making “a very violent and ruthless example that has affected a very broad range of people.”
“There is a growing belief in the broader movement that these cases are in a way “experimental” ones. That in the years to come, this “state of exception” that was built around these cases will expand to any form of activism, even to simple forms of self-organized groups. In October, we expect a big trial in Thessaloniki for the Anti-Gold Mining Movement [skouries], where people are treated like terrorists just because they are trying to protect their land, their air and their water resources. If this criminalization of relations become a “normality” in the court rooms, no one will be unaffected.” – Panagiotis Koustas
In August 2012, an armed robbery of a bank on the Greek island of Paros took place. A taxi driver attempted to intervene and was fatally wounded. The Greek Anti-Terrorism unit took over the case and arrested Tasos Theofilou days later, charging him with being a member of the state-banned Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (CCF), murder, attempted murder, and robbery.
Tasos, widely known as a political prisoner, has proclaimed his innocence all along, and says he had been targeted by the state for his beliefs for years. In an interview with Greek independent media OmniaTV, Tasos said “the counter-terrorism forces alongside the media are struggling to convince people that anarchists pose a threat to any person and not to authority itself.” Watch an informative video on the many details of the case of Tasos Theofilou here.
On July 7th, three of the five judges hearing Tasos’s appeal ruled in his favor and acquitted him of all charges. Hundreds of supporters throughout the courtroom cheered as Tasos stood up and thanked them. He was released from prison later that day.
A couple of weeks before Tasos received his freedom, thousands marched through Athens in a sweltering 100-plus degree Fahrenheit weather showing solidarity for the political prisoner.
In a case that sparked two nights of rage in the center of Athens, Irianna and Perikles, two Greeks convicted on charges of being CCF members, lost their ability to suspend their prison sentences while waiting on their appeals, meaning they will stay in prison for the duration of their appeal process.
Panagiotis Koustas says, “according to the Greek Law, Irianna and Perikles can file for another Suspension Court in October and hope for a better judgement. Their appeal in court can take two or three years, it depends on the traffic and how many cases that are filed before theirs.”
In a ruling that a Greek government spokesperson says “will be recorded in the ‘black book’ of Greek justice,” Irianna was found guilty based on highly disputed DNA evidence and sentenced to serve 13 years in prison. Read more on Irianna’s case in our talk with Panogiotis Koustas seen below, and also in a recent article by Tassos Morfis, here.
During the court sessions for Irianna and Perikles, the community showed a lot of support in and outside of the courtroom. On Monday, July 17th, just hours after judges decided Irianna and Perikles were to remain in confinement, a demonstration took place in Monastiraki Square in the center of Athens.
Instead of being organized on the internet and shared through social media, this demonstration was created and circulated through conversations. A section of the demonstration autonomously decided that a “justifiable and defensible act” would be to make a statement by attacking shops on Ermou Street, one of Europe’s most expensive shopping streets. More than 60 stores and 4 ATMs were attacked:
When we spoke to Koustas about Ermou Street, he said that, through her father, Irianna condemned the action. However Koutsas also spoke about the court’s disrespect towards the people, saying he was “personally insulted as a human being“:
“Irianna, through her father, declared that she strongly opposes this type of riot in her name. I am not in any position to judge her view, I don’t even want to. What I can state for myself is that the Court attitude towards her and Perikles and against the audience was really frustrating. I was personally insulted as a human being not only from the decision, but also from the full disrespect the Court paid to people. I felt like watching a play written by Kafka, directed by Ionesco, played by horrible actors.” – Panagiotis Koustas
In the translation of the statement claiming responsibility for the action on Ermou Street, it’s stated that, “the struggle against mechanisms with real material authority, which with a signature can lock you in prison, cannot and should not remain at the level of controversy in arguments, essentially a deaf dialogue. Now it must be understood everywhere that every hour, every day that Irianna and Perikles are in jail, will be a day of incommensurate(/asymmetric) cost.”
SIMILARITIES OF TASOS’ & IRIANNA’S CASES
Tasos and Irianna’s cases have been going on for years and are part of a wider net of charges and repression brought towards anti-authoritarians. We asked Koustas what his opinions on the similarities between Tasos and Irianna’s cases:
“There are two aspects of similarity. The first one is the fabricated charges. The second one is the use of DNA material in the court. Tasos was found guilty by the first court on the grounds of a DNA sample on a hat allegedly found in the bank robbery site. This hat was not photographed on the crime scene in Paros and was transferred to the Athens Lab some days later than the other evidence. Tasos was arrested in Athens and was forced to give a DNA sample on a ”resisting arrest” charge, which he was later found innocent of. But, this was not enough to drop his DNA from evidence in his bigger case, as it should happen. Technicians in the lab said that Tasos DNA was a match with the DNA found on the hat. In the same period, this certain police lab is not qualified to perform these type of tests and no one knows if the sample was mistreated by the people running the lab, as their procedure in using the material is unknown and certainly not checked.
In Irianna’s case, her DNA is found on a magazine (cartridge clip) of a gun. The lab admits that they don’t have a full sample, but two years after Irianna had voluntarily given her own DNA sample, they declared it a match. Since the original sample is just partial, they call it a match with just 3 of the 16 elements in common and 1 “similar”. There is a signed text from over 200 biologists in support of Irianna saying that this procedure is false in every way.
There is also another similarity in both cases. The Anti-Terrorist Squad says that Tasos and Perikles (who was charged and convicted with Irianna) “came to their attention” by two different anonymous phone calls, possibly by “worrying citizens”. This is a very old tale in Greece. What is rather interesting is that the Anti-Terrorist Squad claims that there is no line recognition [caller-ID] on their telephones, at the same time, every home in Greece has one placed for free by the telephone company.
The final similarity is that in both cases Tasos, Irianna and Perikles were related to other people charged for participation in the ΣΠΦ (Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire) organization, which is the ‘Holy Grail’ of the “Baby Terrorists” according to the Counter Terrorism Officials, the “new wave and type of terrorism” I mentioned before. Not with the same people, but with people that were charged for participation too. Trouble is that in Tasos’ case, these people were found innocent, or not related with the ΣΠΦ. And in Irianna’s and Perikles’ case, the “link” to ΣΠΦ was Irianna’s boyfriend, Kostas [Papadopoulos], who was also roommates with Perikles and he was found innocent from the first degree for any participation. Since the verdict for him was unanimous, the state can’t appeal against it.
What is rather “new” and surely disturbing in both cases is this kind of criminalization of relations between people, that was never common in Greece. In general, Greek Police and Courts were trying to separate the “criminals” from their family members or friends when it came to pressing charges. It was almost common practice to “turn a blind eye” if a wife or a mother was not giving away her husband or child to the police, if he was involved in anything and had trouble with the law. It was considered somehow a “natural behavior” not to give away your beloved ones. That started to change some years ago, with the ΣΠΦ cases, and practically ANY relation to them was suddenly meant “participation in a terrorist group” to the authorities. Mothers, girlfriends and boyfriends, friends, roommates, people that simply attended their courts, were targeted as “possible members” and had their life under surveillance. This turning point led to crazy questions in the court room, like “why did you eat souvlaki with Sakkas” in the case of Tasos and “why didn’t you break up with the guy when he was charged” in Irianna’s case. What makes the questions even crazier, is that in every case the “links” to ΣΠΦ are already declared innocent of the participation in other courts.” – Panagiotis Koustas
DIFFERENCES OF TASOS’ & IRIANNA’S CASES
Knowing the similarities of the Tasos’ and Irianna (and Perikles) cases, there are differences as well. In Tasos’s case, in particular, with a murder conviction and possible connections to the CCF, seeing the range of different community members showing solidarity at his rally on June 24th, raised questions as to how this case extended to the broader community. Koustas answered those questions and explained his opinions of the differences in the cases, which included the time spent in prison for each, political identities, solidarity movements, and the appeals processes:
“Tasos spent five years in prison before he was found innocent on the second degree. Irianna was free up to the first decision in June with minor restraining orders. She was even able to leave Greece twice (for Germany and Spain) to attend University meetings related to her work. There is also a big difference in political terms. Tasos declared his political identity from day one and throughout the procedure as an anarchist/communist. Irianna and Perikles are not declaring any political views at all.
Another difference is on the solidarity movements around the two cases. In Tasos’ case, during the first trial there was a rather small and anarchist-related base of solidarity. Due to the death of the taxi driver in Paros, when he tried to stop the bank robbers, a lot of people – with the mainstream media portraying Tasos as a “cold-blooded murderer”- were keeping a distance from the case. It was only after his conviction to 25 years that this “bubble” broke and a lot of people understood how big the mistrial was and how false the accusation was. His stance in prison, where he wrote two books, made this solidarity movement grow, but still it was rather dubious if it would be effective. Finally, it was proved OK, since today he is free and not stigmatized for something he never did.
In Irianna’s case the first trial went really unnoticed, only very close friends and relatives knew that she and Perikles were on trial. Both defenders felt that they will win the case if they didn’t make a buzz around it, since the evidence was really poor against them. So, all of the solidarity movement started after their conviction. And grew very fast, it spread in the Greek society like a wildfire. It went hard up to last Monday’s court, which wasn’t the appeal court, but a special type of court which could provide to Irianna and Perikles a suspension of their sentence until the appeal court. Something went very bad there for the second time, but no one can understand what, since both of them had every reason by the book to get that suspension. Finally, the court decided not to allow that suspension, with 3 votes against 2.” – Panagiotis Koustas
Drawing comparisons to the US court system that has been using certain protest cases to set examples for others is not a hard task. American prosecutors often scapegoat one person or a small group with charges for a protest or action when hundreds or thousands participated.
Beyond the blanket charging of over 200 anti-Trump protesters in Washington D.C., we see a concrete example of political targeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, in regards to a protest-turned-riot last July. Louis Hunter, the cousin of Philando Castile was the only one facing felony charges and possibly 25 years in prison for attending a protest which took over Interstate 94 in St. Paul a few days after Philando was killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez. (Hunter has since had his charges dropped)
Yet, in Athens, however strong the repression seems, anarchists continue to mobilize forces to aid in shelter, food, and healthcare for refugees; build self-organized squats and alternative economies; and strive for more equality in a horizontal community apart from any leaders or classes, while attempting to secure their communities from the threats of far-right extremists, police officers, and the state’s forces.
Read part two: Targeting of Anarchists & Autonomous Groups
By Niko Georgiades
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