Greek police and justice should not cover up another killing of a rom by a police officer

     11.03.2002 / The cooperating organizations Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece condemn last night's killing of a young Rom by a police officer in Zefyri (Attica). They call upon Greek Police and Greek Justice to proceed with an expeditious imputation of responsibilities and punish the perpetrator in correspondence to the crime's gravity, in contrast to the until now generalized practice of impunity, like in the cases of the killings of Roma Tasos Mouratis (in 1996) and Angelos Celal (in 1998) by police officers. We welcome the -filled with sensitivity for the Roma living within his municipality- statement of the Mayor of Zefyri Apostolos Zervas. Finally, we condemn the coverage of the news item by the state-run Macedonian Press Agency, which was the only one to discover that a "pursuit" and an "exchange of gunshots" had taken place, apparently in order to justify the police officer's act. Thus, it continues its tradition of incriminating Roma in many of its news items.
   As reported in today's Press Release of the General Police Directorate of Attica, at 20:00 on 24-10-01, 21 year-old Rom Marinos Christopoulos refused to pull over at a road block, accelerated his car and, according to the allegations of the police officers, tried to ran them down. One of the policemen, police officer of the Emergency Squad Georgios Tilianakis, "reacted instinctively and shot once with his service handgun against the car. As a result, the car's driver was mortally wounded". Taking into account that televised broadcasts showed that the bullet had struck the upper left part of the windshield, on the driver's side, one could easily surmise that the police officer, instead of attempting to avoid the car, shot in order to immobilize it: this constitutes an unacceptable use of a firearm, considering that the police officer was not under fire. It is to be hoped that the announced arrest of the perpetrator will be followed by his suspension and his prosecution by the Prosecutor; and that the Sworn Administrative Inquiry will be completed expediently and that the pertinent trial will take place in a reasonably short period of time.
   It is reminded that, on 20 November 1996, a police officer killed in cold blood near Livadia 45-year old Rom Tasos Mouratis, while the latter was lying facing the ground, in front of the eyes of some of his 6 children: the state, despite the repeated international appeals, never informed anybody whether Greek Police and/or Greek Justice ever punished the perpetrator. Moreover, on 1 April 1998, in Partheni, near Thessaloniki, a police officer shot in the back and killed 28-year old Angelos Celal, the driver of a car used by Roma, while they were attempting to escape arrest: both police and justice covered up the incident, arguing that the police officer was in self defense, despite the fact that their own reports maintained that the victim was unarmed and that the police officers recovered from the scene of the crime 17 spent cartridges from police-issued firearms and only one spent cartridge from a non-police gun that was never found. The case, which is supported by our organizations, is pending before the Supreme Court, with the demand that the nolle prosequi order be quashed.
   We welcome the statements made today by the Mayor of Zefyri Apostolos Zervas, when interviewed by Flash 961 radio. He indirectly condemned the incident and painted a bleak picture of the living conditions of the Roma in his municipality, a result of governmental indifference. Many Roma schoolchildren drop out of a school that has exclusively Roma pupils (in violation of domestic laws and international standards); many Roma are involved in drug dealing; while some do not have any citizenship documents. To give just an example, the victim was not registered in any municipal rolls and special procedures had to be applied for a burial license to be granted.
   Finally, the state-run Macedonian Press Agency hastened, for yet another time, to cover the incident by referring to a non-existent "pursuit" and "exchange of gunshots" in order to justify the police officer's abusive use of firearm. Just like, for example, it groundlessly reported one year ago that many grave offences had been committed by many residents of the Romani settlement (then) at the banks of the Gallikos river, without prior confirmation of its sources and without subsequently apologizing to the defamed Roma. Similarly, today, following the issue of the Press Release by the police, it did not amend its inaccurate news item.