As he arrived on his bike for a 3am clock-in at the family-owned bakery on the Greek island of Salamina, Walid Taleb had no reason to think his 10-hour shift that morning would be different from any other.
But Saturday, November 3rd, was to prove different – the 29-year-old Egyptian migrant disappeared into a maelstrom of beating at the hands of his employer, his son and two accomplices, who chained him up and tortured him for 18 hours in a stable.
That ordeal was followed by indifference by medics, who said he didn’t require hospitalisation after he was found beaten black and blue on a village street, and by police, who detained him in a cell for four nights after the attack. On that Saturday morning, Walid’s trouble started two hours before the end of his shift, when baker Yiorgos Sgourdos’s son, a 19-year-old just back from his compulsory military service, told the Egyptian to clear off and never come back.
Taken aback at his rash dismissal, Walid felt there was little he could do as an immigrant with no papers. But he did ask for the two months’ unpaid wages he was owed.
Hearing that, the baker’s son twice punched Walid in the face. With that, the father appeared on the scene with another man, and they joined in the beating.
They searched him, and in a pocket found a large sum, about €12,000, a discovery that fuelled, they would later tell an examining magistrate, their suspicion that he was stealing from the premises. It’s a charge that his friends strenuously deny, pointing out that, unable to open bank accounts, they entrusted their hard-earned savings to the care of Walid, whom his compatriots saw as safe and trustworthy.
Walid’s three tormenters then placed a ring and chain around his neck, bundled him into a car and drove a short distance to a stable, next to the baker’s home.
That’s when the horror started for Walid, who says the baker and his gang seemed to be in for the long haul: police later found water, food, alcohol and cigarettes in the outhouse. In the ordeal that followed, he was beaten in shifts and told he would be killed.
“‘You will die here and here you will be buried.’ The son told me that his father had a gun and that he would kill me,” Walid told this newspaper, adding that he was certain he would never leave the stable alive. But when the baker and the others left the stable to open the bakery on Sunday morning, Walid managed to use a rock to smash the ring binding him to the ground. Stumbling outside, his face bruised, and unable to talk, he wandered for a couple of hours around the village before collapsing in front of a petrol station, when shocked passersby called the police.
Taken to hospital by ambulance, Walid’s second ordeal then started. When doctors said there was no need to keep him in, the police took him into custody, detaining him for three nights in a cell with criminal suspects on Salamina and a night in the Athens “aliens’ bureau”, where preparations were made to deport him to Egypt.
No medical treatment
Contacted yesterday, Greece’s police press office said it would need two working days to answer written questions from The Irish Times about Walid’s treatment.
Rabab Hassan, a volunteer with the Egyptian community in Greece, said: “Walid received no medical treatment in all this time, apart from some paracetamol given to him by the police.”
With the help of a lawyer, Hassan managed to secure Walid’s release from custody four nights after the attack. The same day, Sgourdos, the baker, was also released, subject to restrictive bail terms. Along with his three co-accused, he faces charges of robbery, abduction and grievous bodily harm and illegally employing an alien. If found guilty, he could go to prison for at least 10 years.
What has shocked observers is that the 59-year-old Sgourdos is a former local councillor and deputy mayor for conservative New Democracy on Salamina. Last Friday, as four friends carried him out of a Piraeus courtroom where he testified to an examining magistrate, Walid’s pain was etched on his face. Barely able to whisper and with his head slumped on the shoulder of a friend, he dozed off while fellow Egyptians from Salamina looked on in disbelief as they recounted the unbelievable and unpredicted ordeal among themselves. They said he was still passing blood six days after the incident.
Alarmed that Walid had not returned home from work, they had spent hours on Saturday and Sunday morning looking for their friend. When they asked at the bakery on Saturday, they were told Walid had left as normal.
“On Sunday morning I spoke to the baker, who offered me coffee and walked around with me looking for Walid’s bike. He even said to me that by not showing up for work, he was destroying his business,” said Mustafa Samir, as he sat with Walid in a Piraeus hospital on Saturday. His ordeal is more proof that casual brutality towards foreigners is on the rise in Greece, where Golden Dawn, an openly violent, fascist party that demands the immediate deportation of all illegal migrants and the mining of the country’s borders, has 18 MPs in the 300-seat parliament.
Characterising the attack as one of “striking brutality”, the Athens office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which recently set up a racist violence recording network with a number of non-governmental organisations, said it can be considered a racially motivated act “since it is doubtful that such an act would have been the same had the victim been Greek”.
It added that the response of the authorities in Walid’s case “follows a pattern” noted in a recent report from the network whereby survivors lacking legal documents have been arrested with a view to deportation after going to the police to report racist violence against them.
“If this happened to a Greek in Egypt, what would the reaction of the Greek government have been?” Walid, who is married and has two young daughters, asked from his hospital bed.
* This article appeared in the Irish Times on 13 November 2012