Does Greece respect the Principle of Equality before the Law?[1]

Sixteen years have passed since the trials of the “17 November” organization. The majority of defendants received very heavy sentences, sentences that the appeal trial more or less upheld. The first instance lasted many months and for a long time held the interest of public opinion and the entire legal community, mainly because, for the first time, a special criminal procedure was adopted.

Today most of the detainees, making use of existing legislative provisions which have always been in force, have been released and returned to their families and professional activities. For many years, many of the detainees, both ones who were released and ones who remain in prison, made normal use of the existing legislative provisions, followed the relevant legal procedures, and were granted regular leave on personal or educational grounds, like so many other common law prisoners. The institution of prisoner leave has a long history and is internationally recognized as good practice in prison systems in all civilized democracies.

There is, however, in Greece a prisoner who is an exception to the above legal framework and whose basic rights are systematically violated. Alexander Yotopoulos, 75 years old today, sentenced to life imprisonment in 2003, continues to deny the charges of which he was convicted. According to the law in force, Yotopoulos has for many years been entitled to both regular and medical leave. In addition to this, since he satisfies the time limit for firm detention as well as age criteria, he is entitled to file a request for release like any other prisoner.[2]

Around the world, democratic systems are mainly judged on their application of the principle of equality of all before the law. The attitude of the judicial and penitentiary authorities towards Alexander Yotopoulos is today incomprehensible to all of us who believe in genuine respect for the principle of equality of all before the law, even in times of economic, social and political crisis. Almost half a century after the fall of the dictatorship, democracy in Greece must be vigilant to confirm its unwavering commitment to fundamental principles. When exceptions are made to the democratic rule of law, those exceptions are always a greater threat to democracy than the threats they are designed to suppress.

[1] Text, followed by signatures, published in the journal Documento, Sunday 9 June 2019.

[2]  Pursuant to Article 55, paragraph 1 of the Penitentiary Code, the lifer is entitled to regular leave after 8 years in prison. Alexander Yotopoulos made his 8th request on 5 November 2018 and received no answer. Normally the answer, whether negative or positive, must be given within 2 months. With no answer, no appeal is possible.


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