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[ALBSA-Info] More on Greece's Aromunian Trial

Agron Alibali aalibali at
Tue Jul 10 21:06:36 EDT 2001

 Greece update (Aromanian activist's appeals trial postponed)

IFEX- News from the international freedom of expression community_________________________________________________________________ACTION ALERT UPDATE - GREECE4 July 2001Aromanian activist's appeals trial postponedSOURCE: Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), Athens**Updates IFEX alerts of 1 June and 5 February 2001**(GHM/IFEX) - On 3 July 2001, the First Appeals Court of Athens postponed thehearing of Sotiris Bletsas' case until 19 September. On 2 February, Bletsas,a member of the Society for Aromanian (Vlach) Culture, was sentenced tofifteen months in prison and fined 500,000 drs. (approx. US$1,400) fordissemination of false information (under Article 191 of the penal code).The postponement was decided by the Court because of the absence of allthree prosecution witnesses, nationalist deputy Eugene Haitidis (NewDemocracy), who had pressed charges, and two Vlach personalities. Thedefence insisted that the trial be held, as is possible in Greece, with theabsent witnesses' testimonies in the previous trial read to the court. Onereason presented by the defence was that a representative of the EuropeanBureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL), Domenico Morelli from Italy, aswell as party representatives from PASOK, Coalition and Renewal ModernizingMovement (Coalition-splinter party) were present to testify for the defence.Another general reason is that Greece is in violation of the right to a fairtrial (Art. 6, para. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights), as thecharges against Bletsas were first brought in 1995.  Present in the courtwere observers of GHM, Minority Rights Group - Greece, Home of MacedonianCivilization, and Rainbow Political Organization of the Macedonian Minorityin Greece, who, along with Society for Aromanian (Vlach) Culture, hadinvited the EBLUL representative.The charges were based on Bletsas' distribution of a publication of theEuropean Union's (EU) semi-official EBLUL (in which Bletsas was the Greek"observer") at an Aromanian festival in July 1995. The document made mentionof minority languages in Greece (Aromanian, Arvanite, Macedonian, Pomak,Turkish) and those in other EU member states. His prosecution was triggeredby charges pressed by conservative New Democracy Deputy Eugene Haitidis.According to Bletsas, the prosecution's witnesses included the Aromanianmayor of Prosotsani (northern Greece). The latter considered the referenceto the Vlach language as a minority language defamatory to the Vlachs.Bletsas appealed the sentence and was set free pending the appeal.GHM considers the verdict to be obscurantist and a flagrant violation offreedom of expression. After the conviction, there was an internationaloutcry, following a campaign launched by GHM, which led inter alia to  twoquestions being tabled in the European Parliament. The first question wasasked by two members of the European Parliament's Green/Free Alliance group.Welsh MEP, Eurig Wyn, and Basque MEP, Gorka Knörr Borràs, asked theCommission if it considered that the sentence was "compatible with Europeanvalues of freedom of expression and opinion and of cultural and linguisticdiversity." On 4 May, Commissioner Reding answered that: "The Commissionconsiders this topic of high importance and follows it carefully. At thisstage, the Commission is not able though to answer properly. That's why theCommission has asked the Greek government to provide a copy of the sentenceas soon as it will be ready and any other information related to thismatter."It is widely believed that the swift setting of an appeals trial date in thecourt's summer session was a reaction by the Greek state to theinternational outcry, and GHM had hoped that the charges would be dropped bythe Appeals Court. However, the court's presiding judge said that one of thewitnesses for the prosecution was not properly summoned; and he claimed thatthis, combined with the MP's reasons for not being present ("socialobligations"), made postponement mandatory. GHM believes that the Greekstate must investigate the improper summons which contributed crucially tothe postponement, as well as the necessity of the postponement itself.Finally, a week before the trial, the Society for Aromanian (Vlach) Culturedistributed a press release dated 10 March, in which it makes clear thatAromanians have "a national conscience, a specificity as a people thatspeaks its own language, different from that of the other Balkan peoples,[which] has survived for two millenaries." GHM considers that Greece shouldrespect the right of some Aromanians to feel they are a separate people andto want their language taught and preserved. Just as it respects -and infact promotes- the right of other Aromanians to feel that they are part ofthe Greek nation and that their "idiom" (as they call their language) neednot be taught and may die out with time. Both options emanate from the rightto self-identification, which is only respected in Greece in the secondcase. Naturally, programmes aimed at the preservation and development ofAromanian in Greece should not be impeded, but on the contrary encouraged,at least as long as there is sufficient demand for them.BACKGROUND:For background, texts on related parliamentary questions and reactions tothe conviction, as well as an English translation of the officialtranscripts of the first court case, see the GHM website: ACTION:Send appeals to authorities:- condemning the verdict in the first trial, the postponement of theappeals' trial and the authorities' attitude as a violation of freedom ofexpression and the right to a fair trial, as well as an indication of acuteintolerance towards minorities- calling for an investigation of the legal foundations for the appealstrial's postponement, and especially the improper summons of one prosecutionwitness- asking for a condemnation of the verdict, and the quashing of the chargesat the next hearing, on 19 September- asking that Greece abolish its intolerant policies towards minorities,acknowledge the presence of national and linguistic minorities, sign andratify the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, ratify theFramework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which itsigned in 1997, and introduce the teaching of those minority languages(Aromanian, Macedonian and Romani) for which there is sufficient demandexpressedAPPEALS TO:George PapandreouForeign MinisterAthens, GreeceFax: +30 1 36 81 433E-mail: gpap at m...Dimitris ReppasMinister of Press and InformationAthens, GreeceFax: +30 1 36 06 969Professor Mihalis StathopoulosMinister of JusticeAthens, GreeceFax : +30 1 77 55 835Romano ProdiPresident of EU CommissionE-mail: sg-info at c...

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