On Tuesday 18th July 2017, 35 refugees in Moria camp, Lesvos, were arrested. For the second day in a row, protesters sat outside the European Asylum Support Office inside the camp, holding banners denouncing dehumanising conditions, and calling for freedom of movement for those kept on the island for over 6 months. Following this peaceful exercise of the right to protest, there were clashes between a handful of protesters and Greek riot police. Police forces then carried out raids of Isoboxes, and made 35 arrests. Images and videos showing police using excessive force during clashes with protesters and brutal violence during raids and arrests including beatings with police batons and boots, have been published in international media and on social media.Many of the 35 arrested were not present at the morning’s peaceful protest, let alone the clashes between a small number of protesters and riot police that ensued. This led observers to conclude the arrests were arbitrary; people were targeted because of race, nationality, and location within the camp at the time of police raids. 34 of the 35 people arrested were black. Many of the 35 report having been brutally beaten by police during raids, arrests and/or in police custody. 11 have filed official complaints of police brutality, and forensic medical examinations have been ordered. One individual was hospitalised for over a week, and many have needed urgent medical attention. Given the mounting evidence of police brutality, Amnesty International has published a report urging Greek authorities to conduct an immediate investigation into allegations of excessive use of force amounting to possible torture: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur25/6845/2017/en/
During the preliminary hearings on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of July, 31 of the 35 people arrested were charged with exaggerated crimes of arson, attempted assault, resisting arrest, rioting, damage to private property and disturbing the public peace. These charges carry disproportionately heavy sentences if convicted, and could additionally signify exclusion from the right to international protection. The Judge Investigator ordered pre-trial detention for 30 of those charged, with alternative restrictive measures ordered for the individual who had been hospitalised. Many of the people subject to pre-trial detention orders have vulnerability status and/or serious mental and physical health conditions which should preclude incarceration. Imprisonment pending trial, which in Greece means on average a period of over 6 months, should be a measure of last resort under Greek and international law. 4 individuals have had their preliminary hearings postponed due to the Court’s inability to find translators. On Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th of July, 20 of the individuals charged were transferred to prisons in Athens, and 2 to Chios.
Legal Centre Lesvos denounces use of excessive force, arbitrary raids and arrests, exaggerated criminal charges, lack of access to due process and punitive pre-trial detention on the part of state actors, all of which violate basic principles of international human rights law. The apparently indiscriminate nature of these arrests, charges, and pre-trial detention orders, coupled with the dawn-raids that took place in Moria camp on Monday 24th July, provide reason to believe that authorities are deploying a policy of intimidation intended to instill fear in the camps and prevent organising and protests against the realities of structural violence and dehumanising reception conditions for refugees in Lesvos. The Legal Centre will continue to advocate for the rights of the 35 arrestees and for the rights of all refugees in Lesvos, including the right to freedom of expression and to live in dignity; free from violence, discrimination and inhumane treatment.