Prisonners in hunger strike

Article published on Nov. 21, 2008
community published
Article published on Nov. 21, 2008
On Monday the 3rd of November a large hunger strike kicked off with more than 5,000 prisoners in every Greek prison participating. The reason for this massive action is that the prisoners want to protest against their detention conditions.

Even prison officers questioned by a journalist of the Makedonia newspaper, said these medieval conditions were nothing but archaic : 11 to 12 prisoners in each cell normally for 5 people, a roll of toilet paper for each prisoner a month, the sanitary areas seldom cleaned, not even a dustbin in the outside courtyard. The prisons are so dirty that diseases develop more easily. Ta Nea newspaper reminds us that 52 prisoners died in prisons in 2007 (none of these related to oldness…), and 4 burned to death in 2006 in the Korydallou prison because of prison officers’ negligence. This description is not only expressed by some humanist observers, but also by international agencies such as the UN or the European Committee for the prevention of torture that compared Greek prisons with Guantanamo regarding the life quality of the prisoners (article in Makedonia).

ancienne prison à Thessalonique Why have detention conditions so badly deteriorated in Greece ? The answer is very simple, according to the articles I have read : in 1990, there were 3500 prisoners in Greece, they are now in 2008 14,000, and only a few new structures were constructed to accomodate this population change. Among the prisoners, half are foreigner, and 2 out of 3 are condemned for drug traffic affairs. But Manolis Lamtzidis, president of the Bar of Thessalonique, reveals other explanations : the non-application of community service and more and more severe punishments…

A pan-hellenic protest movement was thus created, and now deals with the majority of the prisons in the national territory. The strikers have demanded 45 points to be improved in the carceral system, and included in these demands are some simple basic hygiene rules : e.g. clean sanitory areas, nicer visiting rooms, and above all a 24 hour medical service with more respect given to the sick prisoners. They also demand the possibility of taking part in creative activities during the detention time, and the abolition of the prison sentence for minors and the creation of closed specialized centers for the prisoners of this age. Finally the possibility for foreigner prisoners to purge their punishment in their country, to ease a little the situation in the full Greek prisons.

The newspaper Eleftherotypia then looks at the government’s reaction. They used « threats and intimidation » towards the strikers, whereas in Makedonia one can read about free citizens demonstrations in support of the prisoners, and that even a concert is planned for the 10th November in Athens behind the protest.

It could sound very strange that those whom the Right has considered to be responsible for causing trouble and disorder in the society claim for their rights. « Not at all », is the answer of the writer Eleni Karasaviddou. « The idea that there is a superior Right higher than the human right, is an idea as old as our civilization », she refers to Antigone’s myth who opposed herself to king Kreon and decided to bury his dead criminal brother, even if the king had forbidden it. Therefore there is no wonder to see the same old story developed by Sophokles being discussed again in Greece.

Moreover the prison situation is related to a wider debate such as the increase in criminality : «Criminality depends on economic, social and emotional inequalities, and is related directly to social, family, and state structures », Eléni Karasaviddou adds in Makedonia. But, according to the article published in Ta Nea, « the scandalous situation of Greek prisons for such a long time not only doesn’t contribute to the prisoners correction, but instead leads us to the opposite result!» That means that the more prisons conditions deteriorate, the more the criminality that prisons always create, will continue increasing.