Greek judges ac­cuse Tsipras gov­ern­ment of ‘dirty’ at­tacks

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Judges in Greece have re­acted an­grily to a blunt bar­rage of gov­ern­ment crit­i­cism over re­cent court rul­ings, com­par­ing the “dirty” at­tacks to au­thor­i­tar­ian crack­downs in Turkey and Poland. The gov­ern­ment “is sys­tem­at­i­cally at­tempt­ing to sub­ju­gate and con­trol jus­tice,” the as­so­ci­a­tion of judges and pros­e­cu­tors protested over the week­end.

“Min­is­ters and law­mak­ers launch base­less ac­cu­sa­tions daily... they seek to erode the pres­tige of the Greek jus­tice sys­tem... fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of Turkey and Poland,” they said. “The Greek public can un­der­stand the dan­ger posed by a vo­ra­cious ex­ec­u­tive, seek­ing to op­er­ate unchecked,” the as­so­ci­a­tion said. The row erupted af­ter a court ear­lier this month de­cided to jail a young grad­u­ate stu­dent ac­cused of links to one of Greece’s most ac­tive far-left ex­trem­ist groups.

The 29-year-old lin­guist iden­ti­fied only by her first name, Iri­anna, was handed a 13-year prison sen­tence in June as a sus­pected ac­com­plice of the Con­spir­acy of Fire Nu­clei group. Po­lice say they matched her to a par­tial fin­ger­print on a gun clip found hid­den with other weaponry in an Athens park in 2011. She de­nies the charges, and her le­gal team says the al­leged fin­ger­print find­ings are too par­tial to be con­clu­sive be­yond doubt.

The con­tro­ver­sial move to jail her sparked street protests ear­lier this month, some of them at­tended by mem­bers of Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras’ own left­ist party Syriza. A num­ber of his min­is­ters and law­mak­ers have also taken turns at­tack­ing jus­tice over the rul­ing. Among the crit­ics was Jus­tice Min­is­ter Stavros Kon­to­nis, who called the de­ci­sion to deny Iri­anna re­lease from prison pend­ing appeal an “un­pleas­ant sur­prise”. “It is strange to say the least, when cer­tain peo­ple con­victed of drug trafficking are al­lowed re­lease pend­ing trial,” Kon­to­nis told par­lia­ment last week.

Gov­ern­ment spokesman Dim­itris Tzanakopou­los also called the move a “bad de­vel­op­ment” which would go down in the “dark an­nals of Greek jus­tice”. To calm tem­pers, the head of Greece’s top ad­min­is­tra­tive court, the Coun­cil of State, made a rare public ad­dress on the is­sue on Mon­day. “Judges... do not take in­struc­tions (from the gov­ern­ment and law­mak­ers),” said Nikos Sakel­lar­iou, adding: “Judges must be po­lit­i­cally neu­tral.”

Sakel­lar­iou’s un­char­ac­ter­is­tic public state­ment, read out to re­porters, was care­fully timed. It fell on the 43rd an­niver­sary of the restora­tion of democ­racy in Greece fol­low­ing a bru­tal seven-year army dic­ta­tor­ship. Judges were out­raged in Oc­to­ber when, on the eve of a key rul­ing on a pri­vate TV ten­der, a pro-gov­ern­ment news­pa­per re­ported that one of the Coun­cil judges de­cid­ing the out­come had had an il­licit af­fair.

“In or­der to con­trol jus­tice, they have used the dirt­i­est means avail­able to the state-paid­for jour­nal­ists,” the judges’ as­so­ci­a­tion said on Sun­day. Crit­ics note that Greek jus­tice needs over­sight too. A decade ago, a group of judges were given heavy sen­tences for tak­ing bribes, at­tempted ex­tor­tion and abuse of power.

In an­other case that has riled the gov­ern­ment, the Supreme Court prose­cu­tor last week de­manded the re­open­ing of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the for­mer head of Greece’s state statis­tics ser­vice, a case Tsipras’ ad­min­is­tra­tion has been try­ing to close. For­mer statis­tics chief An­dreas Ge­or­giou faces charges that he al­legedly in­flated Greek deficit fig­ures to help in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors im­pose harsher terms for a multi-bil­lion-euro bailout in 2010.

One of Greece’s fore­most le­gal ex­perts, and a Tsipras ally, Pres­i­dent Prokopis Pavlopou­los on Mon­day ap­peared to ad­mon­ish the gov­ern­ment. “Man can only live and cre­ate in free­dom (where) there is a dis­tinc­tion of pow­ers,” Pavlopou­los said in an ad­dress mark­ing the democ­racy an­niver­sary. He added that the ju­di­ciary had to op­er­ate “with­out in­ter­fer­ence or bias” and de­served “re­spect of their in­de­pen­dence” from ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches. Law ex­perts say the open dis­pute threat­ens to di­vide a coun­try al­ready un­der enor­mous pres­sure from a seven-year eco­nomic cri­sis and hard­ship. “The judges must lower the tone, but the gov­ern­ment must also un­der­stand its lim­its,” Aris­tote­lio univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Grig­oris Kalfe­lis told Athens mu­nic­i­pal ra­dio. “This is very dan­ger­ous,” warned a prose­cu­tor speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

“It is an in­sti­tu­tional at­tack desta­bi­liz­ing democ­racy it­self,” he told AFP, whilst lament­ing the es­ca­lat­ing row with the judges. “This is para­noia.” Turk­ish judges are among thou­sands of civil ser­vants tar­geted in a mas­sive crack­down af­ter a failed putsch against Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan last year.—


ATHENS: Euro­pean Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner Pierre Moscovici (R) shakes hands with Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras (L) dur­ing a meet­ing at the Max­i­mou man­sion.

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