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“I am not innocent”: writings from a Greek prison
- April 29, 2019
Anarchism & Autonomy
After spending five years behind bars as a political prisoner, Greek anarchist communist Tasos Theofilou reflects on life in prison and prison’s role in society.
Anarchist-communist Tasos Theofilou was arrested by the Greek Anti-Terrorist Unit on August 19, 2012. At the Court of First Instance (2013-14), Theofilou was sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment for the charges of common complicity to homicide and the armed robbery of an Alpha Bank branch in Paros on August 10, 2012. He was acquitted of direct perpetration of homicide, joint constitution of and participation in the Conspiracy Cells of Fire (CCoF), and possession of explosives and “war material.” At the Court of Appeal (2016-17), Theofilou was acquitted of all charges.
In 2018, Theofilou faced the danger of going back to prison due to an appeal lodged before the Supreme Civil and Penal Court of Greece by one of its deputy prosecutors against the decision of his acquittal. The court rejected the appeal, and Theofilou was, definitively and irrevocably, acquitted of all charges.
Theofilou spent five years in the prisons of Domokos and Korydallos. He was a member of the Network of Imprisoned Fighters and took part in a hunger strike (March 2 to April 10, 2015) with a series of demands against the most recent punitive turn of the Greek penal system. A wide solidarity movement supported Theofilou all these years.
In the letter below, which is included in Writings from a Greek Prison: 32 steps, or correspondence from the house of the dead (Common Notions, 2019), Theofilou contextualizes his trial and highlights to social and political importance of his arrest, detention and initial conviction. According to him, they are “manifestation of how a ruthless police state attempts to solidify the most extremist doctrines of judicial repression.”
Writings from a Greek Prison is a literary work of biting realism. Theofilou gives testimony on the brutality of prison life, and its centrality in contemporary capitalism, through a blur of memoir, social commentary and free verse. His work centers on exposing the conditions of widespread exploitation and social struggle that persist in Greece as a result of the debt crisis — in prisons as well as in mainstream society.
Open Letter on the Commencement of the Trial at the Court of Appeal
November 2, 2016
On November 21, after a nine-month postponement, my trial commences at the Court of Appeal. It’s been two years since the completion of my trial at the Court of First Instance, when I was sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment for the charges of common complicity to homicide and robbery in connection with the events on Paros Island on August 10, 2012. I was acquitted of participation in the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire as well as of direct perpetration of homicide by a majority opinion.
It was a political (not judicial) compromise, resulting from a conflict between the manipulation of the case by the police in cooperation with the mainstream media during the first days after my arrest, the lack of any evidence, the solidarity expressed by the community, and the reaction of independent media.
From this emerged the temporary Solomonic solution of my partial acquittal of the charges, deferring the prospect of a conclusive decision until a trial at the Court of Appeal. There was an appeal initiated by myself, in which I upheld a full acquittal of all charges. There was also an appeal initiated by a gentleman called Δράκος [Dragon] — a public prosecutor whose surname obviously adds further symbolism to the witch-hunt orchestrated by the Anti-Terrorist Unit. Eventually, the division of opinion between the presiding judge, Mr. Hatziathanasiou — who voted for conviction on all charges — and the two other members of the court — who chose the more moderate option that eventually prevailed — made room for further manipulation. Mr. Δράκος, it would seem, felt that twenty-five years of imprisonment based on no evidence is not enough and went on to turn my trial at the Court of Appeal into a repetition of the initial trial. His appeal opened up the possibility of me not being fully acquitted or even facing a sentence harsher than life imprisonment. I believe that the event of my arrest, its manipulation by the mainstream media, my detention and initial conviction high-lighted certain issues that do not have to do with me personally.
Rather, they bear a wider social and political importance. It is a manifestation of how a ruthless police state attempts to solidify the most extremist doctrines of judicial repression: from the medieval nature of my public castigation and the attempt to squeeze premodern criminal stereotypes into a fabricated pro-file; to the criminalization of friendship, comradeship or social relationships; as well as the use of supernatural or pseudoscientific evidence such as the notorious DNA on a hat, which forms the basis of this otherwise tragic story.
My arrest is part of a crusade against the anarchist movement, launched and orchestrated by the law-and-order milieu: journalists, the Anti-Terrorist Unit, prosecution investigators, and wannabe Supreme Court judges. It is a crusade that dates back to 2009, when the dismantling of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire was put forward as a pretext. A “vacancy” arose from the case of Nea Smyrni back in 2010. 1 A vacancy that the Anti-Terrorist Unit thought I “rightfully deserved,” when in August 2012 a citizen was fatally injured in his attempt to prevent the escape of the robbers of Alpha Bank in Naousa of Paros Island. They based my “informed appointment” on an actual meeting I’d had back then [in 2010] with my friend and comrade Kostas Sakkas at an eatery in the neighborhood of Kallithea, as well as on an imaginary meeting with the then [in 2010] unknown to me but now comrade, friend and co-prisoner, Giorgos Karagiannides. It was a golden opportunity to slander the anarchist movement by profiling it as a mob of ruthless and bloodthirsty individuals.
It took the mobilization of all the mainstream media outlets broadcasting my arrest exclusively, striving to make the scenario appear plausible for a few days. For an entire week they presented me as a ruthless murderer. Photos of me went viral on the Internet while my commission to the courts on Loukareos and Evelpidon Streets, respectively, were broadcast live on all TV channels. In the name of law and order, judges, the media, and the police violated my rights and disgraced the famed presumption of innocence in every possible way. The media-cannibalism I was subjected to breached the aesthetic limits of the postmodern Dark Age we now find ourselves in.
Of course, it was not just the authority of the media that pursued my conviction by means of abusing even my written works and my private life, cramming criminal stereotypes into my fabricated profile (especially that of the paranoid murderer); jurisdiction followed suit as well. It’s precisely the enforcement of media authority, after all, that made the lack of any evidence appear insignificant. Even the provocative statement at court: “Who knows, perhaps this man was not at the robbery,” which came from the then-commissioner of the Anti-Terrorist Unit, Mr. Hardalias, was thought of as less of a scandal and more of a statement that shouldn’t be noted in the minutes. It is a scandal because it was not just a statement that came out of his mouth spontaneously. It was a display of the power of a man and the service he represents in the space and time of a public trial.
It is a scandal because he chose this arrogant way to manifest the absolute power that his service enjoys. He actually implied with cynicism: “I don’t care if he was or wasn’t at the robbery. I don’t care about minor issues like evidence. I have my reasons to want him in prison. And he shall be in prison.” This development came as no surprise given that the suppression of the anarchist movement had been assigned to the Anti-Terrorist Unit as its sole and exclusive responsibility.
The Anti-Terrorist Unit is a police service that enjoys provocatively preferential treatment by the media, to the degree that crime news informs case files and is considered valid evidence of guilt. Of course, we shouldn’t have expected much more from the presiding judge, Mr. Hatziathanasiou, whose argument for my conviction on all charges went as far as to include the fact that I tend to use an electric razor — not a blade — during the freezing winter in Korydallos prison (meaning that, since one perpetrator appears to have no facial hair on the pictures taken by CCTV cameras and since he’s disguised, then it must certainly be me!). He also felt the need to include that I haven’t served in the Army and that I haven’t read Genet’s books.
Needless to say he concurred with the draftsman of my criminal indictment, that my collection of fiction stories, Παρανουαρικό [Paranoir], as well as the crime reportage found in tabloid press of the poorest quality, such as Proto Thema, should be considered valid documents substantiating my guilt. Likewise, we shouldn’t be taken aback by the prosecutor, Mrs. Oikonomou’s, attitude. She simply thought it was . . . appropriate or even in line with her responsibilities perhaps, to nap during most of the proceedings. It came as no surprise that she ended up reciting the document of my indictment when she was called to declaim her proposal.
These were, more or less, the conditions of my trial at the Court of First Instance. The political circumstances had placed the anti-terrorism witch-hunt at the top of the previous far-right government’s agenda. The Minister of Justice and former public prosecutor, Mr. Athanasiou, announced his intentions to introduce high-security prisons for terrorists within the first one hundred days of his appointment. The Anti-Terrorist Unit arrested Kostas Sakkas every other day with silly pretenses, forcing him to become a fugitive.
I see my legal battle against all charges at the Court of Appeal as part of a wider battle against a ruthless police state, against judicial repression and its extremist doctrines. It is a bizarre existential battle in which adjudicators and prosecutors are parts of a single body — that of jurisdiction.
As I did at the Court of First Instance, I would like to highlight yet again that I don’t pledge innocence and I will not plead with any judge to believe me. I am not innocent. In the class war, I’ve chosen a side. I stand with the underprivileged and the suppressed, the marginalized and the prosecuted, the transgressors and the accursed. I decided to take political action in the anarchist movement with the admittedly ambitious goal to strike down the social, political, and economic foundations of capitalism and its state. However, I denied, I deny and will deny again all the accusations of the actions they’ve charged me with. I never was a member of the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, I didn’t participate in this robbery and, above all, I never killed and wouldn’t have ever been capable of killing an unarmed citizen for any reason or under any circumstances.
For anarchy, for communism,
Tasos Theofilou’s Writings from a Greek Prison is now available for pre-order from Common Notions
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/i-am-not-innocent-writings-from-a-greek-prison/