Iriana was an ordinary 29yo academic. Now she’s facing 13 years in prison for terrorism, on zero evidence.
Until recently, Iriana was a PhD student in a Greek university. Today though, she is occupying a prison cell in Thiva, a town north of Athens. Ιriana has been found guilty of being a member of a terrorist group and sentenced under Greece’s draconian counter-terrorism law without establishing her participation in any specific acts, as a member of the group “Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei” (I’ve previously reported on them for Vice News & the World Politics Review).
There is however a problem with her case: there is zero admissible evidence connecting her to it. In the era of heightened paranoia around terrorism and with constant allusions by governments that the executive powers at their disposal need to be broadened in order to combat it, it’s worthwhile examining what happens in countries where that is already a reality.
In 2011, Iriana’s partner was arrested under the suspicion that he was a member of CFN. Iriana, who was with him at the moment of his arrest, was also detained and she also voluntarily gave her fingerprints and a DNA sample. Her partner was cleared of all charges eventually. But that was only the beggining of her adventure. Two years later, the Greek police accused Iriana and her partner’s flatmate of being members of that same group. The sole piece of evidence, a DNA sample found on the clip of a handgun.
At the time, both suspects had been released under certain conditions. The then minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias (who has on occasion threatened to sue the Guardian and other outlets for “slandering the Greek police) accused the Judge who was handling the case of being too lenient. His ministry published a non-paper with the names of individuals “implicated with terrorist activity”. That list included people who had already been cleared of all charges. It also included Iriana. There was never any investigation if that list might have been considered to be influencing the Courts.
Iriana was at this point facing severe charges and an increasingly hostile atmosphere, thanks to that sole DNA sample. A specialist, Giorgos Fatsialos, asked to examine it as well as he couldn’t believe they established a solid connection out of that one sample. The answer he got? That it was impossible, as the sample had been “depleted”.
A list of friends of Iriana was used as indication she was an anarchist (she’s not). Unrelated notes from here childhood were brought in as evidence. The Judge presiding the trial mentioned again and again her boyfriend (who had already been found innocent) as further evidence of her involvement with the terrorist group, to the point where she was asked “why didn’t you break up with him?”.
Despite the fact that previously Iriana wasn’t considered dangerous, no leniency was given by the court that day, who found her guilty and sentenced her to 13 years in prison.
Such was the lack of evidence and due process that it beggars belief how could this even pass as anything but a show trial. But it has, and Iriana is now sitting in a prison cell. A few days later, the Judge in charge of the case was promoted.
Iriana is just one of the examples of people condemned seemingly for their beliefs or their associations rather than because of what they might have committed. Tasos Theofilou is another anarchist who is currently detained over a bank robbery in 2012. His connection with the robbery was an anonymous phone call to the authorities by someone who allegedly said the robber was “a guy called Tasos or something” and a hat which wasn’t in the initial haul of evidence and that the police presented later. The case built against him even places him in two different parts of Greece at the same time. Experts have testified that Tasos doesn’t fit the build or the facial characteristics of the man recorded by the banks cameras, but it doesn’t matter.
These stories might sound incredible, reading them from abroad. It might sound like I am exaggerating or hiding something. Wouldn’t they be bigger stories if it was this preposterous? The fact is, they are. These stories have been as described above, in every newspaper in Greece. They are presented in the same way as above, left and right. But it doesn’t matter. A part of the Greek justice system is waging an ideological war on anarchy based on beliefs, not acts. The line of questioning against Tasos Theofilou established this clearly when the court was presented with the sort of books he likes to read, and when they asked him if what he believed in (anarchy) could ever be established without violence.
The problem is that the counter-terrorism law, while it provides useful tools for the authorities to bring in entire organisations without direct participation in specific acts being established, it can also be used in the ways described above. And here we must ask, what do you do when there is suspected abuse of power to such an extend?
Feel free to fact-check the above blog or ask for further info. If you’d like to learn more, my public email address is email@example.com