HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/HELSINKI
October 9, 1997
this page in Macedonian
Mr. Costas Simitis
Prime Minister of Greece
Honorable Prime Minister Simitis:
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, the largest American-based human rights organization, is deeply concerned about the upcoming trial of four Greek citizens from the Macedonian minority to be held in Florina on October 14. We believe that the charges against them do not comport with Greek or international law and comprise an unlawful restriction on the right to free expression.
The four individuals, Vasilis Romas, Costas Tasopoulos, Petros Vasiliadis, and Pavlos Voskopoulos, activists of the ethnic Macedonian Rainbow Party, are accused of "having caused and incited mutual hatred among citizens" because they hung a sign on September 6, 1995, saying "Rainbow - Florina Committee" in both the Greek and Macedonian languages outside of their party office in Florina. In the evening of September 13, the police removed the sign on order of the state prosecutor. Shortly thereafter, a mob of people led by the Florina mayor physically attacked the office.
The prosecutor charged the Rainbow Party leaders with inciting citizens to commit acts of violence, according to Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code. No criminal charges have been filed against the individuals or political leaders who took part in the attack on the office, even though the Rainbow Party leaders have filed such complaints. Quite the contrary, neither the government nor any of the major political parties condemned the attack. PASOK, the ruling party in Greece, publicly condemned the use of bilingual signs.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki understands that the Macedonian minority in Greece is a sensitive political and emotional issue and that the Macedonian words "Lerinski Komitet" ("Florina Committee") outside of the Rainbow Party office reminded some Greek citizens of a terrorist organization that was historically active in the region. However, this in no way justifies a mob attack on the party's office or a criminal action by the state against those who use their mother language. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki considers such legal action to be a direct violation of the right to free expression, as guaranteed in both Greek and international law. Likewise, by not prosecuting those who attacked the Rainbow Party office, the state is tolerating and, therefore, implicitly condoning mob justice rather than the rule of law. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the Greek government to drop its charges against the four defendants and to prosecute those who organized and were involved in the September 14, 1995, attack.
Holly Cartner (Executive Director)