GREECE: CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION TO MILITARY SERVICE A right that is regularly ridiculed, particularly for atheists

Seventeen years after its recognition and thirteen years after it was written into the Greek Constitution, the Greek government understands the right to conscientious objection as a privilege granted to Jehovah’s Witnesses. For two years all the requests for the status of conscientious objector for reasons other than belonging to this religion have been regularly rejected. Moreover, arrests and trials of conscientious objectors are multiplying. The most recent episode, the trial on 13 May 2014, of the conscientious objector Dimitris Satiropoulos, 48, father of three children, for insubordination in … 1992.

Does the right to conscientious objection still exist in Greece? The question needs to be asked seriously. The law provides for a civilian service of 15 months for conscientious objectors. This status however is granted in an extremely selective manner: since the beginning, in 1998, the committee of the National Ministry of Defence in charge of judging these demands, composed of two military people, of two university professors and a judge, automatically grants the status to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the simple presentation of a document from their church. For the others, the menu provides for a serious examination of the convictions, of which the Holy Inquisition would have been jealous, to reject half the cases according to criteria which are inexplicable and unexplained.

For two years, all the requests for motives other than belonging to the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, were rejected. It is not the first time that the Ministry of National Defence has adopted this attitude. It had already done so between 2004 and 2006, but, following a campaign by the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) and Amnesty International. there was a return to the rule of admitting 50% of the requests.
Moreover, these conscientious objectors are declared to be insubordinate, which means a fine of 6,000€, installed in 2011, and judicial processes. In 2013 more than ten conscientious objectors were detained, judged and sentenced to between eight and twelve months suspended, by military tribunals.
Meanwhile, the judicial actions against objectors for insubordination which happened before the recognition of the right to conscientious objection continue. Greece is the only country to have recognised the right to conscientious objection without giving amnesty to the accused from earlier.

“That will never happen” is what the then Minister of National Defence, Akis Tsochadjopoulos replied in 1997, a few days before the vote in Parliament on the first recognition of conscientious objection, to the insistent demands of those representing EBCO for am amnesty for the previous objectors.
The consequences of this attitude were immediate. The previous objectors who had opted for the civilian service introduced by the law, were offered an alternative service seven or ten times longer than military service.
The most flagrant example was Lazaros Petromelidis, a conscientious objector from 1992. For having refused a civilian service of 30 months in 1998 – if he had chosen military service that would have lasted 4 months since he was already 37 and father of a child – he was detained, judged and sentenced 16 times for insubordination, since the Greek military justice considers that, every time someone called to the army does not appear, he has committed a new act of insubordination. His most recent arrest happened in 2013.

In 2013, two other conscientious objectors were arrested and sentenced: Nicos Karanicas, 45, a conscientious objector since 1995, and Nicos Krontiras, 47 and a conscientious objector since 1996.
Repression continues: Dimitris Sotiropoulos, 48 and father of three children, was sentenced by the military tribunal on 13 May 2014 for insubordination committed in . . .1992. In 1998, already married and with his wife pregnant with their first child, he did not want to do a civilian service, since it was impossible for him to take the financial burden of a civilian service of 36 months.
In these conditions, the real question is: can we speak about the existence of the right to conscientious objection to military service in Greece?

Yannis Chrissoverghis,
Journalist (Athens) and non-religious conscientious objector.