Damian Mac Con Uladh

‘Why did you annoy them?’ Coastguard officials acquitted of torture convictions

In Greece on 12 November 2014 at 6:26 pm

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Two coastguard officials who were convicted last year of torturing a Moroccan asylum seeker on the island of Chios in 2007 were acquitted by an Athens appeals court last week.

Calling for the coastguards’ sentences to be squashed, the state prosecutor claimed, among others, that no torture could have taken place as there is no evidence that the coastguard officers had received training in torture methods.

In November of last year, Piraeus naval court found the pair guilty of having tortured their victim by putting a bag over his head and submerging it in a bucket of water, a type of waterboarding known as the so-called “wet and dry submarino”, and by carrying out a mock execution. They were handed jail sentences ranging from three to six years for the torture, which was carried out aboard a coastguard boat that was taking migrants from a small islet to the port of Chios.

In two hours of testimony to the appeals court, the victim described what was done to him by the accused. Writing in Avgi newspaper, journalist Eleni Rousia said the victim was treated in the court as if he himself was accused of a serious crime. At one stage, when querying what could have led the coastguards to torture someone, the prosecutor asked the victim “why did you annoy them?”.

What the so-called wet and dry submarino torture involves. Sketch from the Norwegian Medical Association website

What the so-called wet and dry submarino torture involves. Sketch from the Norwegian Medical Association website

The victim’s legal team said that this was the first complaint of a “wet and dry submarino” that they had received. They also told the court that the torture had been confirmed by the Medical Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims.

The court also heard from seven witnesses, all colleagues of the accused. All claimed that the date of the alleged torture was an ordinary day, with one saying he only knew about the torture method from having seen it performed in films.

The coastguards’ defence lawyers spoke of a conspiracy against Greece, in which the victim was a mercenary.

In a statement issued before appeal hearing, Amnesty International called for the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism to deal with allegations against the police and coastguard.

It said the court’s decision showed it was imperative “to create a truly independent and effective complaints mechanism against arbitary behaviour by the police and to harmonise the definition of torture as provided by Article 137 (A) 2 of the Greek criminal code with international law.”

The human rights organisation noted that “for years it has received and recorded many complaints from refugees and migrants of torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of the the police or coastguard while in detention, during the Xenios Zeus [police sweep] operations and during illegal push backs on the land and sea border between Greece and Turkey.”

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.

[The above piece is based on an article published in Avgi on 7 November 2014]

What the victim told lawyers about his ordeal in 2007

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.

“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.”

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  1. We have to be glad that coastguard officers do not receive training in torture methods – but I guess some of them can read and the rest can watch films! What a ludicrous statement by the state!

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