Ein Porträt von Koufontinas auf schwarzem Hintergrund, Text: "Asyl in Not stands in solidarity with Dimitris Koufontinas"

Asyl in Not stands with Dimitris Koufontinas

[Ein Gastbeitrag von Maria Bellou]

As much as the governments all around the world are trying to make us believe, corona hasn’t pressed pause on human rights. In Greece, violation of human rights is gradually becoming a daily phenomenon. One of them is the case of Dimitris Koufontinas.

Who is Koufontinas

Koufontinas was a leading member of “17 November”, a left revolutionary organisation that operated with urban guerilla tactics in post-dictatorship Greece (1974-2002). They took responsibility for a series of political acts, including assassinations, bombings, and robberies, all with a political target or agenda. The history of “17 November” is highly connected to the dictatorship, in a way that a lot of their actions targeted people that operated in positions of power during that time, or as a response to the “witch-hunting” of left people that continued even afterwards. This is why, despite the efforts and propaganda of years, and even after the arrest and prosecutions of its members in 2002, “17 November” is not condemned and certainly not seen as a terrorist group by a big part of Greek society. Especially Koufontinas has gained a lot of respect for surrendering while also not giving up any names of his comrades and never stopping to underline the political character his actions.


What is new?

His case resurfaced on December 8th 2020 when the extremely right-orientated Greek government decided to publish a law that is tailor-made for him: any life-sentenced prisoner is to be transferred away from rural prison and back into the previous prison they have been. Koufontinas was the only life-sentenced prisoner in a rural prison at the time. In Greece being kept in a rural prison is an option for well-behaved prisoners, since they get to enjoy a bit more liberty by cultivating a field and staying at a small home of their own. As a result of the new law, Koufontinas was to be moved to the previous prison he was in. However, the Greek authorities used a vague covid-19 related excuse to transfer him to a prison in another part of Greece, far away from his family and legal team. This transfer had the character of an abduction, he wasn’t allowed to take but a few of his things and books and was not provided with the necessary legal documents on why this happened. What is more, he was unjustifiably put into isolation.


His response?

A hunger strike that began on 10th of January 2021 and is still ongoing. He demands for the law to be followed and for him to be transferred to the previous prison he has been or the rural one. He is currently in a very critical condition, but still refuses to receive medical support. Despite the instruction of the district attorney towards the doctors, they have refused to force feed him, as it classifies as a torture. Koufontinas has currently refused water supply. He is determined to fight for his dignity and stated that he prefers to die than to be treated as garbage.

Furthermore, he appealed to the High Administrative Court of Greece to examine the legality of his prison transfer and to allow him to return to either of the other prisons. The trial will take place in April, because the Court didn’t admit his request for an urgent court day. For them, there is not an urgency, when a man is soon to be dead from a hunger strike!


Where are the human rights of the prisoner?

The right government of Greece keeps repeating through its members that human conditions and a good life in prison is not something that “terrorists that haven’t regretted any of their actions” deserve. Aside from our effort to point out that terrorist is not what 17 November was, this is utterly wrong. 

No matter the crime, all prisoners are to be treated in the same way, and an exception is allowed only if a prisoner is to be treated more favorably for specific reasons. Furthermore, regret is a concept examined during trial with regards to the penalty, and not during imprisonment!  

The government is aware of that, but as it has done since it went on power, “New Democracy/ Nea Demokratia” the ruling party is out to get all left spaces of society that don’t conform with their political program and right values. Koufontinas is a symbol of fight for many left groups and breaking him would be an immense win, as they see it. One more time politics step over law, and the fight is taking place (as always) over one human’s life. Does political vengeance have place in prison? the place where human rights should be more sacred than anywhere else since there, they are also more delicate.


Why is it a big deal? 

One might rush to say that this is just one more case. And that is true: prisoners’ rights are not respected in Greece, so far that the ECHR has condemned us in multiple decisions for multiple reasons. The big deal is that our own government is flashily disrespecting the law and human rights, openly stating that there are second class prisoners and preferably the ones with an ideology that doesn’t fit to theirs. There is a parliamentary talk every day about this case, however the statements on “terrorists not deserving a rural imprisonment” continues. Koufontinas in his statement talks about a “complete humiliation of the rule of law” and many people of the Greek political and legal world of Greece agree. This coming at a time where arbitrariness is a morning routine for the state in matters of judiciary power and police violence, it becomes clear that this is not a one man show, but the one of a whole society. The government is relentless to win what it sees as a fight of right and left ideology, steadily polarising the Greek people. Koufontinas cannot speak anymore, but if he could, he would probably say that he saw this coming: a society that “recovered” from a dictatorship by burying it deep down and never talking about the polarisation that it provoked ought to be polarised again.


Asyl in Not stands with Dimitris Koufontinas and condemns the authoritarian tactics of the current Greek government!