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As reported in the last issue, this year War Resisters' International focused their energies for International Conscientious Objectors' Day on supporting Greek objectors. Recently returned from Thessaolniki, Andreas Speck reports on the day's actions and the disturbing developments since.

End the persecution!

On 15 May -- International Conscientious Objectors' Day -- activists from more than 10 countries (Bosnia-Hercegovina, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Israel,Macedonia, Spain, Serbia, Montenegro, USA) demonstrated in Thessaloniki against the treatment of conscientious objectors in Greece.

The demonstration started atthe monument of Grigoris Lambrakis -- a Greek anti-nuclear campaigner who was murdered by fascists linked tothe military at that precise location in 1963 (Costas Gravas used the story for the movie Z) -- where conscientious objectors placed a Broken Rifle into Lambrakis's hands (pictured).

Four COs were [voluntarily!] chained, and they, the broken rifle, banners and drums travelled together through central Thessaloniki. After a brief stop, the procession finally reached the Army Officers' Club, where, in a spot of street theatre, the chained COs were presented for “court martial” in front of the entrance to the club.

COs from many countries spoke out in solidarity with the Greek COs, and the military judge (PN's very own Kat Barton) finally released the Greek COs, after determining that the current Greek law on conscientious objection violates international standards on human rights. The action ended with a Food not Bombs event next to the Officers' Club.

International action

The day's actions were the result of four days of training and discussion among COs and supporters from the Balkans, Israel, Spain, and the USA, about the situation in their country and about nonviolence.

Similar activities also took place in many other countries on 15 May. Turkish antimilitarists celebrated the second “Militurizm Festival” in Izmiron 14 May, with the participation of a representative from Greece, to highlight the links between Greek and Turkish antimilitarists.

The Festival included visits and performances at different historical and present-day military sites in Izmir, including the fortress of Kalifekale on a mountain in Izmir, a NATO base, etc.

New persecution

However, as COs celebrated International Conscientious Objectors' Day, the Greek authorities began a new wave of arrests and persecution of conscientious objectors.

On 18 May, Nikos Baltoukas, who is refusing one week of reserve duty, was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment. Two other COs, both Jehovah's Witnesses, were sentenced to six months imprisonment. And on 12 May, police arrested Georgios Koutsomanolakis on the island of Rhodes, on charges for insubordination dating back to 1979. As Peace News went to press he received a two-year sentence, but remains at liberty pending appeal. In Turkey, CO Mehmet Tarhan (see PN2461) is still in prison, and was awaiting a second trial session on 26 May.

Solidarity and support

These developments reveal the importance of international solidarity and International Conscientious Objectors' Day. Greece only introduced its present unsatisfactory law on conscientious objection due to international pressure back in 1997. Only international pressure will help to end the continuing persecution of COs in the country, and to improve the situation for conscientious objectors.

War Resisters' International's report on conscientious objection in Greece is available at http://www.wri-irg.org/news/2005/greece05a-en.htm
Documentation on conscientious objection in Turkey is available at http://www.wri-irg.org/news/2005/turkey05-en.htm
To support COs, sign up to (and act on) WRI's co-alerts at http://www.wri-irg.org/cgi/news.cgi

Topics: War resisters