The alleged ill-treatment of five Syrian refugee children who say they were detained, beaten and forced to strip naked by Greek police for carrying plastic toy guns in the street is a deeply disturbing incident that must be properly investigated, Amnesty International said today.
The children, boys aged between 12 and 16, were seized “on suspicion of being members of an armed group” while they carried the toys as props on their way to perform in a theatre play in central Athens this week.
“The ridiculous elements of this case should not deflect attention from the extremely serious and deeply disturbing nature of the allegations against Greek police officers, who are accused of committing human rights violations against children in their custody during an identity check,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.
“If these allegations of beating and other ill-treatment are shown to be true, the Greek authorities must ensure that criminal and disciplinary proceedings are taken as appropriate. They should also look into whether racial profiling may have played a part in motivating these officers to inflict such ill-treatment on children.”
The police told Amnesty International on Friday that they had begun a “disciplinary inquiry” to “determine the facts of the case”.
The children, who were due to perform in a production about the Syrian conflict at a local cultural centre, were carrying their costumes and toy guns in a carrier bag when they were detained on the afternoon of 27 September.
They were stopped and searched by four police officers on motorbikes, who called more officers for support, before being taken to Omonoia police station. Two other Syrian refugees in their group, aged 24 and 21, were also transferred to the police station with them.
The children’s lawyer, Electra Koutra, told Amnesty International that the children said they were ill-treated in custody, verbally abused and forced to undress by two police officers.
The youngest child, aged 12, said he was thrown against a wall after refusing to remove his underwear.
Another boy, aged 14, said he was violently shaken and sworn at by a police officer after asking for his mother. The boy’s brother, who had turned around to see what was happening, said he was slapped hard on the back of his neck by the other officer.
The children, who live with their parents at a refugee squat in central Athens, said they were not allowed to contact any family members while in police custody and that when they asked for water they were told to drink water from the tap of a filthy toilet.
Their ordeal finally ended when a third police officer entered the room and told the other officers to stop.
The two adults in the group were questioned in another room, before all seven were released without charge later that evening.
After police initially obstructed the lawyer’s attempts to file a criminal lawsuit in respect of the ill-treatment of the boys, the 12-year-old boy was transferred to make his statement at another police station.
However, neither the lawyer nor the boy’s father were allowed to be present, and while giving his statement the child also, in breach of Greek police rules, was faced with the police officer he had accused of ill-treatment.
“The seriousness of these allegations against the police merit a thorough investigation, and if they are found to be true, disciplinary and criminal proceedings must be initiated against the officers suspected of responsibility,” said John Dalhuisen.
“The police must ensure that incidents such as those alleged must never take place. One key question they should ask is, ‘Would this have happened if five Greek children had been found carrying toy guns in the street in Athens’?”
Amnesty International has documented numerous testimonies of refugees and migrants alleging ill-treatment by the Greek police in recent years.