ATHENS – A day after police allegedly beat two journalists covering protests over the suicide of a retired pharmacist in Syntagma Square, the President of the Greek Photojournalists Union, Marios Lolos, was reportedly beaten so badly by riot police during another protest that he sustained serious head injuries and was facing surgery. Media reports said Lolos, who was carrying a number of cameras and was a well-known presence, was beaten repeatedly with batons on the head. Lolos’ injuries were reported to be to his cranial area.
On April 6, the union issued a statement decrying “the barbaric and unprovoked attack,” the day before, saying that Lolos and other photojournalists have been “targeted” by riot police. “Systematic and repeated attacks against people of the press when they are doing their jobs, which violate even the most fundamental of human rights, cannot be seen as arbitrary; even the most naive can surmise that they are meant to gag the press,” the union’s statement said. It is against the law in Greece to take photos of police, but during the swirl of constant riots it is a common practice by photojournalists and TV camera operators. Police tell anyone who takes their photo to delete it or they will have their camera confiscated.
Giorgos Gerafentis, a reporter with NET state television made allegations that he had been rough-handled by riot officers during the first protest on April 4th, following the suicide of Dimitris Christoulas, who left a note blaming the country’s political leaders for collaborating with Germany, which has insisted on drastic austerity measures in return for its support as part of $325 billion in international rescue loans to prop up the failing Greek economy. “I identified myself as a journalist but riot police shoved me away nonetheless,” he told the station’s morning show. “I fell from the sidewalk onto the street, but luckily I was not hurt,” he said.
About 2,000 people had poured into the area early in the afternoon of April 4th, hours after Christoulas stood under a tree, shouted that he did not want to leave his debts to his daughter, and shot himself in the head. Demonstrators left flowers, candles and handwritten messages at the foot of the Cypress tree where he killed himself. Some of the notes called for an “uprising of the people,” and others said he was the victim of murder caused by the government’s policies of cutting pay and pension benefits and raising taxes, impoverishing many. He stated in his note that he preferred to die with dignity instead of scrounging through garbage for food.
While police are frequent targets of Molotov Cocktail-tossing hooded anarchists, they respond with barrages of tear gas and stun grenades, and have been seen wading into crowds of innocent protesters, beating them. No police officer has been charged with any wrongdoing despite photo and video evidence of unprovoked beatings. Private TV channel Antenna also said that one of its journalists, Rania Maniou, was hit with a baton on the back of the neck by riot police on the same day.
In October last year, Tatiana Bolari, a photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, was beaten repeatedly by a riot officer while covering a large anti-austerity protest, with images of the attack making their way around the world. No one was prosecuted. Last June, journalist Manolis Kypraios permanently lost his hearing when a police officer threw a stun grenade at him during a riot in Syntagma, prompting reactions from human rights groups.
The chief of the Greek police said that an investigation would be conducted into allegations of excessive use of force by riot officers but has said that before yet nothing ever happened once the coverage of the beatings died away. Press unions held a rally on April 6th at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry on Katechaki Avenue to protest the latest attack.