Two men convicted last week of being accessories in a brutal attack that killed a young Australian on Myconos were released from custody after appealing jail sentences totalling almost 16 years. On the same day, a Briton held, based on questionable testimonies and no apparent evidence, for seven months for alleged manslaughter on Zakynthos was denied a third bail request without any indication of when his trial will be held. If we needed confirmation of the disorder, the apathy, the warped logic, the injustice that pervades Greece’s justice system, we got it.
This country owes a lot to Oliver Zammit, the father of 20-year-old Doujon who was killed on Myconos in the summer of 2008. Oliver donated his son’s organs to Greeks. The least he deserved from us was justice.
He got this in some form last week when a court on Lesvos sentenced his son’s killer, Marios Antonopoulos, to 22.5 years in jail, though not for murder but on a lesser charge of inflicting fatal injury. The court also convicted two other bar workers, Dimitris Varonos and Giorgos Hadzioannou, for their part in the attack.
Releasing convicted criminals on appeal is a necessary part of the judicial system as it gives them an opportunity to better prepare their next defense and allows someone wrongly convicted to avoid the indignity of being locked up. However, the rights of the victim and his family, not just the convicts, must be taken into account. Varonos and Hadzioannou were not convicted of shoplifting but of taking part in an assault that was so vicious, it left its victim in a coma from which he could never recover. The decision to release them seems reckless and insulting.
It’s no wonder that Oliver Zammit, a mild-mannered man who has displayed nothing but appreciation for Greece and its people, felt the need to object to having to watch these two men walk free. “We believe in justice, we believe in law and we accept the sentences,” he said. “But we are disappointed [about the release of Varonos and Hadzioannou]. Doujon didn’t have justice the night they took his life; there was no court, no justice, no jury. We’ve been given a life sentence.”
While Zammit complained about a lack of justice in the northeastern Aegean, another apparent injustice was taking place in the Ionian, where judges decided to throw out an appeal by 21-year-old Andrew Symeou, who was asking to be bailed pending his trial for an alleged attack on fellow British tourist, 18-year-old Jonathon Hiles, in a Zakynthos nightclub in July 2007. Hiles was punched and then hit his head after falling off a dance stage. He died in the hospital two days later.
Symeou, who denies any involvement, has been in custody since last July. Before the end of the year, he was moved to the maximum security Korydallos Prison, where he is being held with convicted criminals. Symeou and his family have consistently challenged the charges against him and highlighted the weaknesses in the case: testimony that suggests someone fitting Symeou’s description could not have committed the crime has been ignored and accusations that some witnesses were coerced by the Zakynthos police have not been followed up.
In fact, the police investigation was completed in four days and a number of key suspects and witnesses, including Symeou, were not questioned. It’s symptomatic of a system that essentially encourages police to identify suspects as quickly as possible and then puts the onus on prosecutors to build a case against them. As far as the police’s statistics are concerned, the Hiles case is now closed, even though Symeou has yet to stand trial.
In the meantime, a university student with no criminal record languishes in a Greek jail unaware as to when he might be able to defend himself. “We have been told to trust the Greek judicial system and to believe that Andrew will receive a fair trial but how can we continue to believe that the system will treat Andrew fairly when so far he has been treated unfairly?” said Frank Symeou, Andrew’s father. “The court has a duty to uphold individuals’ fundamental rights, rights that are afforded to everyone. Andrew has the right to liberty, which includes being granted bail pending trial, unless there are strong reasons not to.”
This is a view shared by the London-based human rights group Fair Trials International, which has helped Symeou file an application with the European Court of Human Rights in the belief that Greece is violating European law by denying Symeou bail. The first two denials were based on the fact that he is not a Greek citizen, while the third rejection came after a council of judges decided he might re-offend.
“The arguments of the Greek judges defy logic,” said Sarah Ludford, a British Liberal Democrat MEP that has taken up Symeou’s cause. “Having denied Andrew bail twice on the discriminatory grounds that he is a foreigner, although he had a temporary family home address in Greece, they are justifying bail refusal by claiming he ‘may commit a crime,’ for which there is absolutely no basis.”
Ludford points out that part of the blame lies with the European Union, as it has failed to attach a list of defense rights to the European arrest warrant, under which Symeou was taken into custody. This may be the case but Greece must then accept the lion’s share of the blame for failing to dispense justice fairly.
You have to wonder, when the average detention time in Greece is 12 months – three times the EU average – how many other cases like this there are. Andrew Symeou can at least rely on a family and legal team that are working tirelessly to draw attention to his treatment and ensure he gets justice. How many others like him do not have a voice at all? We are heading toward having a judicial system where only those who employ big-name lawyers or have the connections to sway malleable judges are in with a chance of winning their case. This isn’t the kind of justice system befitting a developed country.
We should consider the words of a third father, Jonathon Hiles’s dad, Denzil. “My son is dead and I want the man who is accused of doing it to face trial for it,” he said. “If he didn’t do it then he will be found innocent but he’s got to go to court. We have to believe in the Greek justice system. This isn’t a Third World country, it is part of Europe.”
It’s time we did ourselves, as well as those that step onto Greek soil, justice.
This commentary was written by Nick Malkoutzis and first appeared in Athens Plus on January 29, 2010.