*The day after the story in Efimerida ton Syntakton, as well as interviews with Aris on ThePressProject and Omniatv, the Greek Police’s Department of Internal Affairs ordered an investigation into his case, even though both the police and the relevant Ministry had initially hastened to refute his allegations. The police’s refutation was in fact released via the state news agency and reported by most media outlets, with no reference to the allegations made by Aris.
by Konstantinos Poulis and Thanos Kamilalis
One day after the events that took place in the Nea Smirni district of Athens, on a Wednesday evening and only a couple of blocks away from the building where the collective Aris belongs to had held a meeting, he saw a motorcycle cutting him off: “the two riders who were behaving erratically and wearing hoods asked me if I was Aris. I told them that yes, I am, and as soon as I said that a car without plates or police insignia appeared, I was thrown on the bonnet and handcuffed behind my back. They then put a hood over my head and forced me into the car.”
Aris claims that when he asked if he was being accused of something, the response was “you’ll find out, shut up.” While in the car, he asked the men if they were police officers, and their response was once again for him to shut up, and that they would rip him apart: “they tortured me from the beginning of the ride,” Aris says. “I only started thinking that they were police when I heard a radio transmission from outside the car. But I was not told anything, not who they were, if I was being arrested, or where they were taking me. I was afraid I could end up anywhere”.
“My persecution by the police is a fact”, he explains. “I have more information on this, for example I know that one of my photos is being distributed via the police’s messenger app, on their chats. This was before I was arrested in Nea Smirni. This is proven by them showing my photos around since last summer, even though ‘officially’ I’ve been monitored since January. I believe they wanted heads on a platter, regardless of whose heads they would be, just to intimidate a society that is starting to raise their heads. Because the number of people who are reacting is increasing, even in the middle of the pandemic.”
“At some point I arrived at the basement of GADA (Athens Police Headquarters). They were waiting for me there in what looked like a military setup, wearing masks and hoods, dressed in black. They pounced on me to ‘welcome’ me. Later they threw me in the lift, they told me they would even rape my puppy. I don’t know if it’s a pertinent detail that I have a dog in my backyard, which is not visible. I don’t know if they were talking about my puppy or everything I have and love. They dumped me in a room, where other policemen dealt with me.”
Inside GADA, Aris describes the torture he was subjected to as something that took place in two rounds: “During the first round, I was left wearing a hood over my head, with the lights out, cuffed behind my back, with my hands feeling like they were about to be severed from the tightness of the restraints. I was kicked repeatedly, each time without knowing where the kick was coming from. I was asked which football team I support. Whatever happens in that room happens during a beating. I tried to tell them I do not support any team, “we don’t give a f**k, name a team,” they responded”.
Aris’ complaint cannot be interpreted as anything other than a macabre game aimed at humiliation. He claims they would their fingers into his ears, and that they grabbed him and gripped him tightly without any reason.
He describes how they asked him three times “if he was ready,” without telling him what for, and all while he could not see what was going on. He could hear noises, something like a zipper, and was waiting to be tortured. He could hear them banging on a desk in front of him. “Everyone had a chance to kick my body,” he says. Outside our radio station, he showed us the bruises on his shin. He is still limping.
At some point he realised they were taking him to another floor: “I noticed a sign which said DAEB, meaning the Anti-terrorism Service. That’s when I understood I was on the 12th floor of GADA, and before I was on the 13th floor.” He also says they asked him for several names, “because they wanted to keep setting up others like this. It wasn’t just about political activists and football fans. It was about anybody”.
He also claims that “at some point, on the 12th floor, a window was opened. They told me to listen here, if you want to end this, nobody will stop you. Because in any case, your friend (probably meaning my co-defendant, my best friend) has given you up, and you will go to jail for murdering a police officer. There you’ll have plenty of time to write your little posts and count your likes, motherf**er.”.
The men that tortured him, he claims, were laughing at his mother’s crying, as they had been monitoring his phone since his previous arrest. He stresses that during all this time he was still wearing a hood. “It would have been a relief, for anyone, to lose consciousness,” he says.
During ‘round two’ he describes being ‘interrogated’ with ‘beatings, beatings, beatings’, to the point where he was staring at his legs, and, realising he couldn’t move them, he became afraid that he’d been handicapped. “They were professionals”, he says, as they knew where to hit him without causing permanent damage. And some time later, when he mentioned he was being tortured, someone responded “what torture?”
And what this policeman said before him while they were still beating him was later repeated in an official statement by the Greek Police..
Greek Police’s denial to Aris Papazaharoudakis’ claims and his response
The Greek Police responded to the Efimerida ton Sintakton frontpage story on Aris’ complaint with an angry press release. In it, instead of ordering an enquiry into the very serious incidents mentioned in the report, the Greek Police asked the newspaper to issue a retraction, in a tone reminiscent of an extra-judicial statement. In circumstance in which we had a police force politically liable for their actions, answerable to both society and their political superiors, that police force would at the very least state (even without intention of following up) that they would investigate the complaint of a man who has claimed, on the front page of a newspaper, that he was tortured by the police.
Instead, the police issued the following press release:
“On its frontpage today, Efimerida ton Sintakton published a flippant agenda-serving complaint about the so-called torture inflicted on Dimitris Papazaharoudakis, who was accused of several offenses during the events of Tuesday, 9th March, in Nea Smirni.
While he was in custody and until he was brought to the investigating authorities, neither he nor his attorney (with whom he had unhindered communication) made any claim of torture or abuse, nor was a request issued for him to be seen by a doctor or transferred to any hospital for the provision of first aid.
It should be noted that from the very first moment of his arrest the detainee was provided with the necessary documentation making him aware of his rights, which he signed and which was then included in his case file.
It should also be noted that the detainee had made the same claims of torture when he had been previously arrested for vandalising the office of M. Varvitsiotis MP.
The following information is provided for the sake of completeness:
Mr. Papazaharoudakis was detained at 20.45 on Wednesday 10th of March, accused, among other things, for the felonies of a) attempted murder as part of a group b) explosion c) manufacture and possession of explosive substances d) arson with intent. On Thursday 11th March he was brought to the Athens Misdemeanour Prosecutor where he was charged with the above offenses. He then asked the judge for an extension before he had to submit a plea, which was granted for Saturday the 13th of March.
It is emphasised and repeated that for the duration of his transfer to GADA and while he was in custody there was no complaint regarding being unfairly treated by neither the detainee nor his attorney. “
We read out the Greek Police press release and Aris responds by agreeing with only a single point: “I am offended by an official police press release that refutes my complaint but doesn’t even know my name. It is false and tells lies even when it comes to my name. I confirm what their press release is saying – no one called Dimitris was tortured. But I, Aris, was.”
On the question of medical attention he says: “I did not ask for medical attention or to be taken to a hospital because they wouldn’t even grant my request to go to the bathroom. For my own dignity I refused to ask for help from the very same people who had torn me apart, physically and mentally. My wounds have been photographed, I was told that, while I already had several tattoos, now I have a few more. Since we are currently talking on the radio, I cannot show you my ‘right to an attorney’ mentioned in the Police’s press release.”
Regarding contacting his attorney, he stressed that it was only possible for two minutes just before he was brought in front of the judge, and this was in the courthouse where he was surrounded by armed police: “I have great respect for my attorney, or rather for her colleague. I only saw her for two minutes before our first appearance in front of the judge. And while I was there my hands were cuffed behind my back and I was asking them to loosen the cuffs and I spoke with my attorney while there were guns all around us. There was no privacy when I was speaking to my attorney. [The police] had weapons in their hands even inside the courtroom, I assume they were ΕΚΑΜ [an antiterrorist unit]. I never spoke to my attorney in private. I first met Anny at the courthouse, it was the first time after 5-6 days that I felt someone is with me, other than my co-defendant. We later learned that our attorneys had to fight to be allowed to see us. And this is because our people realized that we had disappeared and didn’t think it was random. Because of my own case, because I have been previously persecuted, an attorney was able to be brought in.
Regarding his rights and not informing the judge about his treatment: “I took the documents explaining my rights along with the arresting documents, I put them in my pocket and I wanted to burn them, I didn’t want to look at them. My friends and family who were not arrested saw me 4 days later. And even now they know I walk with a limp etc. I can’t imagine the judge and whoever else saw me dragging myself around like a corpse didn’t understand what I had been put through. I felt that it would insult my dignity if I said that I had been tortured, as if that were relevant to the charges. Because it has nothing to do with the charges, and I wouldn’t plead and victimise myself in front of the judge. Because I am innocent. I cannot get inside her mind to know if she understood what had happened to me. But let’s not kid ourselves, they were removing my cuffs and I was screaming in pain right in front of her.” He also says that he didn’t ask to be taken to the hospital for the sake of his own dignity. They wouldn’t give him any water and wouldn’t allow him to go to the bathroom – under these conditions it would have been equivalent to him begging them.
If you listen to this interview, you realise how unreasonable it is to ask this man to go to the police and ask them to address the fact that he was tortured by the police. The very fact that the police rushed to issue a press release within which they ask Efimerida ton Sintakton to retract their report and issue a denial on their front page explains why there have been so many similar complaints lately. No one thinks they are in danger of being punished for their actions.
The police therefore say that, because the defendant didn’t formally file a complaint regarding his mistreatment, it didn’t happen.
We don’t know when we’ll be able to say for sure that we no longer live in the society we once knew. We have not forgotten that torture in GADA is something that, though not an entirely normal situation, has been called out on several occasions. Just like ‘kidnappings’ have been repeatedly denounced, very recently in fact, by students who were arrested during the events in ASOEE (Athens University of Economics and Business) in 2019 but were then found innocent, and also a few weeks ago in Crete. Just like the surveillance of citizens is also something that has had to be denounced repeatedly since 2019, in successive news reports.
And since the political authorities require the police to be on their side, when the Guardian was writing about torture in Greece back in 2012, N. Dendias (then minister of Public Order) threatened the newspaper with a lawsuit, instead of dealing with the police officers who were being accused.
As Aris recounts his experience here there is a weight pressing down on everybody. A weight on those who are listening on the radio and who leave comments, and a weight on those of us who are listening to him directly.
But at the same time, he also describes the acts of solidarity inside the holding cells, with his fellow detainees giving him a bottle of water through the bars of his cell, which he and his best friend then used to urinate in, since the police wouldn’t let them go to the bathroom.
Among the detainees who saw them and tried to help them is 18-year old Efi, the young woman we saw on camera being beaten by police when she tried to help her friend. “I met Efi when she yelled from inside her cell ‘don’t listen to them, don’t pay any attention to them’. And then a police officer yelled ‘shut up wh*re’ and banged his baton against her cell”. Aris goes on to publicly thank this young woman. Inside the prison, he heard a policeman say that they wouldn’t let her outside her cell for fear that other detainees would rape her. When Aris was released, he heard that she had been sexually abused by the police. Listening to the story of this young woman who intervened to help her friend and paid for it with severe beatings, you wonder where she found the courage to try yet again to come out and help.
Aris tells us that he thinks all this is being done to intimidate the people so that they think twice before attending a protest. He then says that he will continue going to protests and that even as this brutality continues people will not be afraid. The more they try to terrorise people, the more people will protest.
And this sounds very different when coming from the lips of people in the hands of a Police department accused of torture, while the Greek Police shows no willingness to even investigate these claims, let alone answer for them.