An Athens military court on Thursday is expected to hear an appeal by two coastguards against their conviction for torturing a Moroccan asylum seeker on the island of Chios in 2007.
Last November, Piraeus naval court found the pair guilty of having tortured their victim by restricting his breathing so as to simulate drowning and suffocation (the so-called “wet and dry submarino”), by carrying out mock execution as well as other serious attacks on human dignity.
The defendants were handed suspended jail sentences of six and three years as well as the long-term deprival of their political rights. In addition, one of the convicted coastguards was told he would be demoted upon confirmation of sentence.
The torture occurred immediately after the victim’s entry into Greece and during his transfer with other asylum seekers to the port of Chios.
The incident was first documented in the report entitled “The truth may be bitter but it must be told: The situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the practices of the Greek coast guard” (pdf), which was published in 2007 by the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants and the NGO Pro-Asyl.
In a statement, the Group of Lawyers called on members of the public to lend their support for the victim, who will be present, by attending the appeal hearing, which is scheduled for 9am at the Supreme Military Court of Athens (1 Petrou Ralli St).
“He needs the support of all of us. At a time when arrivals through the sea are on the rise and so are the boat wrecks and the deaths at sea, at a time when the military judiciary is turning a blind eye to a series of recent ‘pushbacks’ and other illegal acts of deterrence against migrants and refugees, the justice that was served at first instance must be upheld,” the group said.
What the victim told lawyers about his ordeal in 2007
“Everyone was sitting on the floor and seemed terrified. There was a boy a little apart from the group. His shirt was pulled over his head. His upper body was bent far forward. I found out later that the boy was 17 years old, and that during a search they had found a knife on him. As soon as I got on the large boat, I was beaten. Several times they hit my head against the railings … I had to kneel down. One policeman stood behind me while two stood in front of me. The one behind me hit me with a stick on the head, deliberately and hard. He hit me on the crown of my head repeatedly with the stick. I tried to protect myself with my arms. Then he hit my arms. I tried to look behind me, and he started hitting me again. The two policemen in front of me were armed and showed me their weapons while I was being beaten. They looked at me very seriously. They said: ‘We are going to kill you.’ The expression on their faces was terrifying. I was very scared. The other policeman – a fat one – came up to me and said into my ear: ‘Tell the truth. These two policemen are very dangerous. They will kill you.’
“Then they brought a plastic bucket full of water. I was kneeling the whole time. ‘Do you see the water?’
“My arms were pressed together behind my back, held by one of the policemen. The other policeman put his hand on the nape of my neck and pushed my head down into the water; I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was only pulled up after some time. ‘Do you now know the colour and name of the boat?’ I said ‘no’. He punched me twice in the face. The policeman behind me grabbed my arms again. I wanted to take a deep breath of air. The policeman in front of me asked: ‘Do you remember now, or not?’ I said no again. He grabbed my head and pushed it into the water. I was absolutely terrified. I thought I would not survive. When I came up again the policeman again asked, ‘So, you don’t remember?’ I repeated that I did not.
“So then the policeman took a plastic bag and put it over my head. With one hand he tightened the bag around my neck. I couldn’t breathe anymore. They repeated the process of the plastic bag three times – every time they asked the same question. Then a policeman signalled with his hand: that’s enough.”