GREECE: Restrictions to public gatherings and police violence threaten right to peaceful assembly during COVID-19

– Article written by Dominika Spyratou from Common Ground.

During the first lockdown, from 23 March – 4 May 2020, restrictions on assembly prevented people in Greece from gathering in groups of more than 10 individuals in open spaces. No major incidents took place during the 6 week lockdown period. Yet, with the gradual lifting of the restrictions from 4 May, and as young people started gathering in public spaces in larger numbers, the police intervened to enforce public health measures and some such interventions turned disproportionately and unjustifiably violent.

Since the new government’s election, who came into power with an agenda promising heightened security and the imposition of ‘law-and-order’, an increasingly common and worrisome tactic is the use of tear gas and excessive force by security services at demonstrations and protests. Police activity and violence have come as no surprise, including at student protests over the abolition of the university asylum law, which prohibited police from entering university campuses; during a march over the death of George Floyd; and at an anti-fascist rally on the day that the leadership of Golden Dawn – Greece’s neo-Nazi party – has been convicted of running a criminal organisation.

On 7 November 2020, a second lockdown with stricter measured was imposed in Greece, which is still ongoing.  Fines for ‘unnecessary movement’ unjustifiably increased from 150 euros to 300 euros, and a nighttime curfew was imposed. Measures change frequently, creating confusion and frustration. The support for the restrictions of people and business affected by the quarantine is gradually decreasing.

With the second lockdown, the Government also imposed a ban on public protests. The enforcement of COVID-19 regulations has been characterised by episodes of excessive force, including during public demonstrations:

  • On 17 November 2020, during a march commemorating a 1973 student uprising against Greece’s then-military rulers, the police used tear gas on peaceful protesters wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing;
  • On 25 November, the police arrested nine women who staged a small peaceful rally to mark the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women;
  • On 6 December, 100 people were arrested during a march that marked the 12th anniversary of the police killing of a teenager;
  • On 10 February, during a march against a new higher education bill, peaceful protesters were met by Greek riot police who used tear gas. One photojournalist was also hit by police while covering the protests;
  • On 6 March, the police used chemicals and chased protesters during one of several rallies held in response to the deteriorating health of Dimitris Koufodinas, a hitman of the left-wing terrorist organisation “November 17’’ who was on a protracted hunger strike in demand that he be transferred to the capital’s Korydallos Prison. 29 people were detained and were fined 300 euros each for failure to maintain social distancing.
  • On 7 March, the police attacked peaceful citizens at a square in an Athens suburb during lockdown checks leading to a rally protesting police violence.