Greece: Report from trial of conscientious objector Nikos Karanikas
(11.03.2013) Nikos Karanikas is a very active and well known person. Many people came to attend his trial on 8 March, something that always presses the members of the court. It is maybe the first time that the president of the court allowed all the witnesses (10) to testify in Nikos' defence: normally, the courts do not accept more than 4-5.
Nikos' witnesses were: Friedhelm Schneider, President of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection; Michalis Tremopoulos, former member of the European Parliament (Greens); Tasos Kourakis, member of the Greek parliament (SYRIZA – left party); Triantafyllos Mytafidhs, member of the Municipal Council of Thessaloniki; Ifigeneia Kamtsidou, Professor of Constitutional Law (University of Thessaloniki); Konstantinos Tsitselikis, Professor of Human Rights (University of Thessaloniki) and member of the Board of the Hellenic League for Human Rights; Alexis Mpenos, Professor of Medicine (University of Thessaloniki); D. K., President of the Blinds’ Association of Northern Greece; Michalis Maragkakis, first Greek non-religious CO; Yiannis Glarnetatzis, president of the Greek Association of Conscientious Objectors
There were also representatives of Amnesty International and War Resisters' International.
The witnesses highlighted the participation of Karanikas to social movements and activities at a local and national level. Almost all the witnesses described him as a person dedicated to the struggle for human rights, struggling against social exclusion for 20 years.
All the witnesses testified that Karanikas was not aware of his call up paper, something that the court accepted. The internal correspondence among the various military offices proved that after his acquittal in the year 2000, Karanikas had never been called to the army again. Possibly, this was a mistake by the military officers, who later tried to cover this up by arresting him.
The lawyers made this point, but mainly they tried to highlight the development of the European legal decisions, mentioning the cases of Savda and Erzep vs Turkey, and the case of Bayatyan vs Armenia. They asked the court to decide on Karanikas’ acquittal on the basis of the questions raised by the ECHR rulings compared with the Greek laws and penal treatment of the COs.
It was obvious that the members of the Court were acquitt Karanikas’, but not ready to discuss on the issues raised by the ECHR decisions. They did not want the responsibility of introducing something new to the Greek legal system. Their final decision was that Karanikas is innocent, but on the grounds of lack of official papers and the fact that he was not aware of his “obligation” to serve the army, because he never received an official call up paper since 2000.
What does it mean? First, that Karanikas is free and innocent. It’s a success, bearing in mind the general political context in Greece, which becomes more and more conservative and makes life harder for conscientious objectors (and against everyone who fights for right of every kind!). On the other hand, Karanikas’ trial was another lost opportunity to start a discussion on the gap between the Greek legal and penal system and the European ones, regarding conscientious objection.
Last week Karanikas, who is 44, received a new call up paper for the 21st of March. He will not enter the army, so a new procedure against him will start and the result will be a new trial. This is the situation in Greece and this is what we have to fight against.
Lazaros Petromelidis: WRI observer reports from trial of CO Nikos Karanikas. March 11, 2013