Syrian children ‘stripped, abused’ in Greek detention for carrying toy guns – Amnesty

FILE PHOTO © Kostas Tsironis
Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation into what may be a severe mistreatment of five Syrian children in Athens. The children told the human rights group they were detained, stripped and abused – all because they were carrying toy guns.

The incident is said to have happened this week in Athens. The children, all boys, were aged between 12 and 16 and armed with plastic toy guns. According to Amnesty, the police pulled them over “on suspicion of being members of an armed group.”

The children told Amnesty they were scheduled to perform a play about the evils of the Syrian conflict at a local cultural center, when they were stopped by four officers on motorbikes who immediately called for backup and detained the group. There were two more Syrian males, 24 and 21, who were also taken to the police station.

Amnesty spoke to the children’s lawyer, Electra Koutra, who testified to her clients being verbally and physically abused. A 12-year-old was reportedly thrown against a wall “after refusing to remove his underwear.” Another, 14, was asking for his mother, but instead “was violently shaken and sworn at” by police. When his brother tried to turn around and understand what was going on, he was slapped hard on the back of his neck by one of the officers.

All the boys live with their parents in a refugee squat in downtown Athens. They say they were not allowed to contact any of them. The police would not even give them water and instead told them to drink “from the tap of a filthy toilet,” according to Amnesty’s report.

As far as Amnesty knows, this lasted for some time before a third police officer entered the room, telling the others to stop. The five boys and two adults, who were questioned in another room, were released later that evening, but the lawyers’ attempts to begin a criminal lawsuit were prevented.

The boy who was 12 was moved to another station for separate questioning after the lawyer failed to file a complaint over the mistreatment. But neither his lawyer nor his father were allowed to see him until much later in the evening. Then the boy reportedly had to face the very same officer accused of the mistreatment, in breach of the law.

Amnesty International’s Director for Europe, John Dalhuisen, believes the ridiculousness of the incident is only outweighed by the severity of the police officers’ crime.

“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,” he said. “They should also look into whether racial profiling may have played a part in motivating these officers to inflict such ill-treatment on children.”

Dalhuisen wants charges brought against the officers for “committing human rights violations against children in their custody during an identity check.”

Amnesty learned on Friday from the police that a “disciplinary enquiry” has been started to get to the bottom of the allegations.

Dalhuisen says there is “One key question [the investigation] should ask… ‘Would this have happened if five Greek children had been found carrying toy guns in the street in Athens’?”