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Greece: Racist sweeping operations in the center of Athens

On 16 March afternoon, through social media I learned about police sweeping operations against refugees and migrants around Victoria square, in which the police were checking people for papers. If people did not have valid documents, the police send them to a detention center. I went there as a journalist to report about this event.

A banner was held by the solidarians and slogans were chanted. Then they began walking towards the 3is Septemvriou street. I continued taking pictures and recording the event.As much as possible, I was at a distance from the event.

In the moment when MAT (riot police) began attacking the people on the sidewalk, a police officer came between me and the event in order to make me take more distance from it, and tried to cover my camera. He pushed me back and asked me to show my credentials as a journalist.

After I showed him my related document he just left me back to taking my photos, but he asked a non uniformed man what they must do? And when I was only two steps away and tried to hold my camera, a MAT grabbed my hands from behind and began pushing me toward the bus.

Throughout this time, I was telling him that I was a journalist and I asked him “Are you arresting a journalist?” and he said “Yes”.I shouted, “I am a journalist” and “a journalist is being arrested for his work in this country”. I was just shouting and I did not resist getting on the bus. When I was in front of the bus door, I showed my camera to the people again and I shouted “I am a journalist”.

An officer inside of the bus grabbed my right hand and violently dragged me into the bus. At the same time, the previous non uniformed man came to me and tried to grab my left hand to pull me out of the bus. The officer from inside the bus was pulling my hand violently and started to beat me.

I told him “what are you doing?”, and the other person outside the bus, while he was also pulling me out, told him something that made him leave my hand. Before that, they were both pulling me roughly toward themselves for a few seconds. While the other officers around him tried to stop him, the officer inside the bus was violently pulling me towards him.

I asked the person without a police uniform outside of the bus why I was being arrested and why this man was acting like that. I asked why he (the officer inside the bus) was doing that (pulling me in by violence). He said “go”. I asked again “why do I have to be arrested? He said you are free. So I responded, ”Now I am free”? The experience of that violence, and the fact that holding a banner and chanting a slogan cannot be a crime, were enough for me to ask for everyone to be released. It is unacceptable for me for facing similar kinds of violence in a country like Greece as I had experienced in Iran and Turkey.

I repeated my questions but that man turned his back on me and walked away. I was once again pushed into the bus by the police officers. They transferred all of us to GADA (Hellenic Police Attica Headquarters). One of the people who was brought there was a black British citizen. He kept asking why he was there. He told me he was just walking to his place from the sidewalk when he was suddenly arrested. Greece was his destination for a few days of traveling and a friend’s birthday, and he would be leaving the country soon. So he contacted the British embassy to ask for help.

This is not the first time I have witnessed such a situation, but it is confirmed that those in power who are supposed to “condemn the violence wherever it comes from” have increased state repression and brutal violence against any protesters in their policies. The responsible of the operation on that day must be held accountable for their illegal action of attacking journalism!

In the summer of 2020, when in Victoria Square dozens refugees had been left homeless by the New Democracy administration, I experienced similar treatment. On 5th July, the night when police attacked homeless refugees, despite showing my press card to an officer, I was beaten by a group of them, and they attempted to arrest me, but I was protected by refugee families. At that time, all the videos were shared on social media.

I see the same patterns between Iran, Turkey, and Greece. Despite the fact of political differences between these states, their current rulers seem to share the same views related to limiting press freedom! If journalism is a crime in this country, if freedom of expression is a crime, it is better for the New Democracy to say it clearly. If refugees are banned from journalism in this country, it is better for the government and the journalism associations to announce it!

With this level of violence against refugees and migrants, and those who stand in solidarity with them in face of the current openly racist policies, this government shows that it is alien to democracy, and cannot treat people in a democratic manner.

Back to the event in Victoria square, according to the Greek Minister of Civil Protection, that police operation was a part of an overall plan to fight “illegal immigration”. In a radio interview, he also said that the operation was aimed at reducing crime in central Athens. He is lying, of course. In their racist eyes, the crime is specific to all those whose skin is not their expected white! It is for refugees!

This government has created a severely illegal and inhumane asylum regime, and it effectively blocks the registration of asylum requests and delays the obtaining and renewing of documents. I must also mention the brutal border violence and pushbacks that are actually used to kill refugees. I have seen and experienced this behavior in all three countries of Iran, Turkey, and Greece on varying scales.

There are things to tell, but, in GADA, in a small room, 14 of us were crowded together. After a few hours when we asked for water, they brought us one small glass to drink! They wanted all of us to drink from one small glass! But, when we were being released, inside the elevator, a policeman yelled at one of us to put on their mask!

We are witnessing widespread attacks on refugees, workers’ rights, public health, education, and even democratic freedoms. With authoritarianism and repression, with systematic misinformation, this government proves every day that they do not intend to leave anything standing.

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