Thessaloniki 4 trial, update day #3

Update from day #3 of the Court of Appeals of our four comrades in Thessaloniki, Greece. The court dealt with two witnesses against Fernando, two against Kastro and the chief of the squad that arrested Simon. The trial was suspended at the end of the hearing on Tuesday18 January as the Thessaloniki lawyers' union would be on strike Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The court will reconvene Monday 24 January. Background information at http://www.salonikisolidarity.org.uk/

by some attendants in solidarity

Tuesday 18 January 2011, 9am, Thessaloniki Courthouse.

The Court opened and began hearing the testimony of police officer #10, from an Athens-based riot squad. He was Fernando's arresting officer. He testified how his squad had arrived on Ignatia firing gas and was immediately confronted by a group of demonstrators, who were so close it was a "body-to-body" fight. Police officer 10 stated that he saw Fernando throw a molotov at his team from a distance of only 2 or 3 metres, and then fire a flare at them. Both missed. He said that they then arrested Fernando, who they claim was carrying a rucksack on his back, in which they found a slingshot and metal ball ammunition.

Officer #10 testified that he took Fernando and the bag to the arrest team's police car, and he was transferred to the preliminary investigation team's police station. No charges were ever brought for the slingshot, nor for the flare. Fernando had originally been accused of throwing a number of molotovs, but in the second trial this had been reduced to just one. Fernando had always denied having any bag with him, and denied throwing anything at the police officers.

When the original report by officer #10 into Fernando's arrest was made at the police station later that night, no mention of the bag was made in the list of his possessions. The defence argued that there was no molotov, no flare and no bag. Officer #10 stated that he was tired when he made his original testimony and had simply forgotten to include mentioning the bag (ie, the evidence!) The bag is only mentioned in statements made later that night. The defence asked that the bag be presented to the court, though at the moment it cannot be located.

A further witness (police officer #11) was only added to the case against Fernando nearly 18 months later, in September 2004. Officer #11 was not mentioned in the initial testimony of officer #10 at the time of making this first report. He explained that he had gone to the police station where Fernando was being held that night, but he had not given evidence as he had been injured during the confrontations and had returned to base where he was seen by a doctor who gave him some stitches to the wrist, though no medical note was recorded of the injury or the treatment.

The defence pointed out that other police officers, more seriously injured than he was, had made statements regarding arrests they had been involved with only a day or so after the demonstration, whereas police officer 11 had waited nearly 18 months before giving evidence against Fernando.

There were numerous inconsistencies between the evidence given by officer #10 and officer #11 in this trial, and between their evidence at the first trial in 2008 and the current appeal trial. One or both of them had to be mistaken, as both of them could not be right. Officer #11 was asked again why he had not testified at the time of the arrest, and he replied that his superior officer had thought that officer ##10's statement would be sufficient.

Officer #12 was the commander of the riot squad which arrested Simon. He stuck to the whole story about the blue and the black rucksacks. Again, he only gave evidence after the video and photographic evidence (in Simon's favour) had been widely published. He said that his squad had gathered up abandoned rucksacks of broken and unbroken molotovs from the street and had placed them around Simon - who, by police officer 12's testimony, was soaked head-to-toe in petrol - as this was the safest place for them. The lawyer asked him to confirm that the safest place for bags of leaking petrol bombs was next to a man soaked in petrol surrounded police, who, by their own testimony, were still on the receiving end of molotovs and stones being thrown at them. Some eyebrows were raised.

He was asked about Simon's injuries. He said that he thought Simon could have been bleeding from the head before the arrest was made, or that he hurt the front of his head while falling (on his back!) or that perhaps a stone had hit him at some point. Officer #12 confirmed that his riot squad had taken Simon with them into further confrontations with molotov-throwing demonstrators, that Simon was handcuffed and that Simon had been made to carry the black bag of molotovs for at least 2 and maybe 3 hours. He was asked why it was too dangerous to take the blue rucksack (allegedly full of broken molotov bottles) with them as evidence, but it was safe to take a man soaked in petrol, handcuffed and carrying a bag full of unbroken molotovs. All police officer #12 could say was that the blue bag was too dangerous to transport.

The next police witness, police officer 13, was a now-retired commander of a Thessaloniki riot squad who had arrested Kastro. He stated that he had seen Kastro on the edges of a crowd of around 400 protesters in Aristotle Square, and that Kastro was handed molotovs from the crowd - 5 or maybe 7 molotovs - which he then threw at the police from a distance of around 70 metres. He said that no harm could have done to police or civilians or to property. He testified that Kastro had tried to escape through the ruins of the ancient market area at the top of the square, and had popped up suddenly very close to officer #13, who now - after an hour of observing Kastro's alleged molotov-throwing - decided to move in and arrest him with a number of other officers.

Kastro was accused of carrying a rucksack containing 2 slingshots, metal balls as ammunition for them, a gas mask and personal documents which confirmed his identity. The defence pointed out that at the first trial in 2008 police officer 13 had been certain that there was a real risk of harm to police and civilians from the molotovs allegedly thrown by Kastro, but in this, the second trial, there was no such risk. Kastro had always maintained that he did not carry a rucksack that day.

Officer #13 did not know what happened to the rucksack after Kastro was taken away in a police car, nor where the bag is now. The defence spent a long time trying to establish where officer #13 and his squad were at various times of the day during the confrontations, pointing out the inconsistencies between the initial testimony at the time of the arrest, revised statements made in 2004, testimony at the the first trial in 2008 and the evidence of officer #13 in court now in January 2011. The defence noted that in the initial arrest statements against Kastro that no description of him, no outstanding features had been included. These descriptions only appear in police officer #13's 2004 testimony.

Police officer #14 also gave evidence against Kastro and followed what his boss had said, though he added that he had seen Kastro firing screws or other metallic objects at the police with a slingshot. There were again numerous inconsistencies between his testimony at the first trial and at the current trial, especially about his location at various times. One important point made by the defence was that it seemed that the police were saying that Kastro's actions took place before the rally organised by the trade unions, though the trade union speakers on the stage reported that there were no disturbances in Aristotle Square before they had begun to address the crowd. Timing was therefore extremely important.

In the original arrest report made against Kastro, there was no mention of the personal documents allegedly found in the rucksack: it is these documents which allegedly prove that the bag belonged to Kastro, but they have not been produced in evidence, and neither has the bag itself. It is not clear what these documents were (it was difficult to understand what was going on as there was a lot of shouting and confusion in the court).

Kastro asked why he had not been arrested for an hour, even though he was separated from the crowd in the square and had allegedly thrown 5, 7, 10 or more molotovs towards the police. Kastro stated that riot squads would usually immediately arrest anyone for throwing anything at them, even empty plastic bottles. Why had he not been arrested sooner? And if his intention had been to fight the police, why did he not wear the gas mask, why had he not dressed for street-fighting? Police officer #14 didn't know.

Court ended at 15.05 GMT+2.

The trial was suspended at the end of the hearing on Tuesday18 January as the Thessaloniki lawyers' union would be on strike Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The court will reconvene Monday 24 January.

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Background info about the case against the remaining four defendants from the demonstrations against the European Union summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 2003. The final trial, where they face between 4 and 8 years in prison, will take place in January 2011.

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