GREECE: New Trial of Conscientious Objector on 16 April


Greek conscientious objector Lazaros Petromelides will again stand trial on 16 April 2002. Lazaros Petromelides is married and the father of one son. He has studied economics and since 6 years he works in the support of socially excluded groups, such as travellers and refugees. He is a member of the Hellenic Association of Conscientious Objectors (HACO) since 1991. He was called to serve in the Greek Navy in 1992 and, following the practice then recommended by the Association, he sent a letter detailing the reasons that forbade him from serving the Armed Forces. In the same letter he asked to be placed in an alternative, non-military national service. There was no provision for such a service then. The navy declared him "evading the draft" in March 1992 and 3 months later he was forbidden from travelling abroad. At the time it was common practice for conscientious objectors to change move house so as for the authorities to lose track of them, but Petromelides chose to remain at his known address. Around Christmas 1996 he was called to the Naval Court, where the public prosecutor charged him with "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobilisation" (Greece has remained in a state of "General military mobilisation" ever since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 for reasons of international politics.). Presenting himself to the Court would mean certain arrest, so Petromelides sent a written statement explaining his opinions. The public prosecutor did not admit this statement. He produced instead an arrest warrant, although the Minister of Defence had already promised to bring to Parliament a law that would recognise conscientious objection. Law 2510/97 was passed only four months later. One month after the warrant, however, the Judicial Council of Peiraeus ordered the Petromelides to be remanded in custody, characterising him a "particularly dangerous person". In April 1998, and while the new law was in force, policemen from Drapetsona station (where Petromelides lives) arrested him for "evasion of draft". According to the Greek law they were obliged to let him go and at the same time notify the Navy recruitment office of his arrest. However, the police wrongly interpreted the order of the Judicial Council as overriding Greek law and illegally detained Petromelides in the Corinth Military Prison. This imprisonment attracted great publicity and as Petromelides remained available for civil national service, the Peiraeus Naval Court decided after 5 days to let Petromelides out of jail so as to formally apply for alternative service. Petromelides was granted conscientious objector (CO) status in January 1999 but was ordered to serve for 30 months at Kilkis Old People's Home, in a town 550 km (340 miles) away from his family home. If he made himself available for military service he would serve for 4 months fairly near his family. Petromelides therefore considered that the law under which his order was made contravened the Greek Constitution in his case. He therefore did not present himself for service, but instead took the only legal action available to him. He applied (within the appropriate time limits, in March 1999) to the highest Greek court (Symboulio tis Epikrateias, StE). Note that according to the Greek legal system he first had to be granted CO status and then challenge the law in the StE, as otherwise he would have no "interest within the law". The Naval Court of Peiraeus took none of the above into consideration. According to the provisions of law 2510/97 Petromelides was deprived of CO status and was called to court again in April 1999. He presented himself to the court, was convicted to four years imprisonment for "evading the draft during a period of general (military) mobilisation" and was detained in Corinth Military Prison. A large wave of solidarity developed while the official Ombudsman (Sinigoros tou Politi, StP) clearly expressed that the requests of Petromelides were just in a special report on conscientious objectors. These developments resulted in the release of Petromelides from prison by the court of appeal (the military 'Review Court') after 2.5 months. The Review Court trial was interrupted in order, ultimately, to wait for the decision of StE, the constitutional court. In Parliament the Minister of Defence answered a relevant member's question by saying that the government was working for a change of law based on the ombudsman's report. Despite all, on being released from prison Petromelides was called to start military service again. He didn't comply and a further arrest warrant was produced for the same offence, which hasn't been implemented yet. Now, nearly three years later, nothing has changed. The StE has not come to a decision as yet, which is indicative of how serious the matter is. Petromelides will stand trial again on the 16th of April. It is quite likely that the first, four year prison sentence will be upheld as the court has to make a decision and the legal framework remains the same. In the hypothetical case where Petromelides is found innocent he could still be arrested on the spot due to the second arrest warrant. The position of Petromelides is representative of the legal status of many Greek COs, as successive arrest warrants and prosecutions for draft evasion have produced a situation that not even the courts can successfully resolve. Radical solutions are necessary, including the unconditional release of jailed COs, respect of the right to refuse military service for reasons of conscience, trials of COs by civil not military courts and above all the removal of the responsibility for COs from the Ministry of Defence, according, among others, with the proposals of the Ombudsman.

War Resisters' International calls for support to Lazaros Petromelides. We ask you to: - write to the Greek Minister of Defence, asking to stop the persecution of conscientious objectors immediately, to stop discrimination against COs, and to revoke the punitive provisions of the present law on conscientious objection. - write to the Greek President of the Republic, the Greek Prime Minister and the Greek Foreign Minister, expressing serious concern about the continuing oppression and prosection against Lazaros Petromelides and Greek COs in general. Send copies of this letters to the Greek Association of COs, and to WRI.

Mr. Ioannis Papantoniou, Minister of Defence, 151 Mesogeion av., Holargos 15500, Hellas (Greece), tel. (003010) t?? 6544053/6452046, fax: 6443832, Email:

Mr. George Papandreou, Foreign Minister, 5 V. Sophias av., Athens, Hellas (Greece). Tel: (003010) 3681800/ 810/ 811, fax: 3611180 Email:

The Prime Minister's Office, 119 Irodou tou Attikou (Herod of Attica) str, Athens 10674, Hellas (Greece), Email:

President of the Republic, B 7 V. Georgiou av., Athens, Hellas (Greece) tel (003010) 7283111

Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors, 35 Valtetsiou str., Athens 10682, Hellas (Greece), Tel.-fax c/o (003010) 6450832, Email