Monday, September 24, 2007
The full story
It has been just over two weeks since I was violently detained by the Greek riot police during a peaceful rally and I thought I would try to put down what happened and give myself a sense of closure over the events that happened.
On Saturday 8th the Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis was scheduled to give his annual address at the International Trade Fair (ΔΕΘ) in Thessaloniki. This is usually the cue for large scale demonstrations in the city and this year was expected to be no exception. The wave of popular disgust and indignation over the government's handling of the forest fire crisis was yet another reason for people to protest. I decided that the rallies organised would be a wonderful photo - opportunity, full of life, colour and a certain touch of drama. And indeed they were. Thousands filled Aristotelous Square and Egnatia Street. Walking through the crowds I was able to take lots of pictures which I intended to put on my Flickr page and blog.
At some point one one of the rallies decided that they were going to march down Agias Sophias St and then onto the Trade Fair and I decided to follow them. Almost immediately the march was accompanied by a phalanx of riot police. As images go, it doesn't get more dramatic than this so I decided to hang back and take shots of them marching down the road in battle formation.
At no point did anyone gesture or shout to me to stop, they remained impassive, if uncomfortably close to the main body of the march considering the fact that tensions were running high. Then as we were going along Tsimiski St a couple of the MAT left the main group and started running in my direction. At first I didn't realise what exactly was happening so kept on taking pictures until they were almost upon me.
I guess the cries and screams from the people behind me should have been a warning but rather stupidly I assumed that I had nothing to fear from them, considering the demonstration was peaceful and there hadn't been a hint of trouble.
What happened next is hazy. I recall being knocked to the ground and having people scream at me. I managed to shout out, "Δεν αντιστεκομαι" (I'm not resisting) and "help". The next thing I knew was that I was face down in a pool of my own blood on the pavement whilst somebody handcuffed me violently.
Witnesses to the incident who contacted me later told me that the riot cop had body slammed me with his shield into a nearby lamp post. That, at least would explain the dislocated shoulder.
I asked them what I had done but all I got was a guy screaming his head off at me. Later on, an officer, I think came along and in a calmer tone of voice told me I was being detained. After a succession of plain clothes police came along and told me I was being taken in for questioning. Again and again I was told that I shouldn't have taken pictures.
Four other plain clothes cops accompanied me in an unmarked white van to the central police station (Αστυνομικο Μεγαρο) where I was taken to the fourth floor to be questioned. There I was asked repeatedly, but politely about my reasons for taking pictures. They examined the photographs and took my details. Eventually, after an hour or so they seemed convinced by my story that I was just taking pictures as a hobby in order to post them on my blog and so said I could go.
Whilst being escorted out some of the officers said that I should clean myself up, though I'm not sure if this was out of kindness or the realisation that letting somebody walk out of a station whilst bloodied and bruised was not the best PR move.
After passing a group of jeering motorcycle cops who were hanging around the main entrance I got a taxi home to make sure that someone could pick up my daughter from her friend's house and to get my IKA book so as to be ready when I went to hospital.Itook this opportunity and posted something on the blog in order to let people know what had happened (see here) Luckily, a friend of mine offered to take me to the Agios Pavlos hospital, Kalamaria where I was treated by doctors in the orthopedic clinic. After being X-rayed, they informed me that I had suffered a dislocated shoulder and possible fractured nose.
After a couple of days I decided that I would press charges, even if I believe the chances of the person who did this being punished are tiny. I feel that if I don't do something then it is tantamount to saying what they did was right.
Two weeks later I am still in pain and I find sleeping difficult, if not impossible. I still can't figure what I did that deserved such a violent response. At no point had the police, either through gesture or verbal warning indicated that I should stop taking photos. Indeed, I'm absolutely sure on this point as I would have heeded them immediately, as I had done when taking pictures of some of those on the demonstration.