Battling with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that has 18 seats in Parliament and has been involved in a number of assaults on immigrants, the Greek government is planning to increase the penalties for hate crimes.
The Parliament is also moving to strip immunity for all crimes that lawmakers have, for the party’s members, some of which reportedly led a raid on immigrant-operated stalls at a fair, and plans to remove their police body guards.
Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis said racially motivated crimes would carry a minimum three-year prison sentence, under judicial reforms due to be voted on in Parliament later this year. Current guidelines generally do not have specific provisions for racial motives in sentencing, and prison sentences for assault are often suspended.
Human rights groups have catalogued a number of brutal assaults on immigrants this year, with some tied to Golden Dawn although the party has denied its involvement despite a platform that calls for all immigrants to be deported and for land mines to be placed around the border to keep out illegals trying to enter the country to seek asylum or use Greece to get to other European Union countries.
“It seems like the Greek government is finally taking xenophobic violence seriously,” Judith Sunderland, a senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press. “But we need to see concrete action, not just announcements. We hope draft legislation will be examined in parliament soon.”
The U.S.-based group, in a report issued in July, said it had documented a rise in anti-immigrant attacks, including stabbings and serious beatings, in Athens over the past two years, leaving dozens of confirmed victims. Earlier this week, Greece’s government launched an urgent inquiry into attacks by members of the extreme right Golden Dawn party against immigrant street vendors, whom they accused of operating illegally.
Four people were arrested in Messolongi, a town in central Greece, for demanding document inspections from immigrant vendors, while a police officer was suspended for allegedly participating in a Golden Dawn-led attack on immigrants’ stalls in the same town over the weekend.
Roupakiotis accused the party of trying to cultivate a “neo-Nazi ideology” in Greece. “We condemn in the strongest possible way every act of violence, and especially actions by members and supporters of Golden Dawn against immigrants or other citizens,” he said. “We believe this is an insult to our long-standing notions of justice and the defense of human rights. It is a threat to harmony in society and creates the conditions to develop fascist and neo-Nazi ideology.”
Golden Dawn said it had taken legal action against Greece’s public order minister and chief of police, seeking their prosecution for alleged breach of duty, after police were ordered to stop and search passers-by outside the party’s Athens headquarters. Police were also investigating an attack on two Pakistani men in a barbershop in Metamorphosi, northern Athens, in which a Greek taxi driver was stabbed after apparently attempting to stop the two attackers. The store was set on fire.
Nearly 500 racially motivated attacks were carried out in the first seven months of the year according to the Migrant Workers Association, as immigrants say that the rising wave of xenophobic violence has left them afraid to walk the streets. The victims were in most cases attacked with steel rods, knives and brass knuckles, the association says.