Nikolaos Karanikas is a Greek conscientious objector. Nikos was first arrested for his conscientious objection 18 years ago, in 1995. Today – Friday 22 February 2013 – he once again faces prosecution in front of the military court of Thessaloniki.
Nikos was first arrested for draft evasion in 1995, when there was no rights to conscientious objection in Greece, and no provision for substitute service. In October 1995 he was sentenced to four years imprisonment by a military court for “insubordination in a period of general mobilization”. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. After an appeal to a military court in December 1995, his sentence was reduced to one years imprisonment, suspended for 3 years.
On his release from military prison Nikos was received a second military call up. This time he was charged with desertion when he refused.
In the year 2000, a military court absolved Nikolaos Karanikas from this charge. In the same year, he applied for conscientious objector status (now possible in Greece), and applied to undertake substitute service in lieu of military service. The army rejected his application, claiming that he had already served in the army whilst he was imprisoned in a military jail, and could therefore not apply for substitute service (1). Karanikas has therefore never been permitted to undertake substitute service, even though he has declared himself willing to do so.
Nikos was arrested again this week (on Wednesday 20th February). Nikos is now 42 years old. He was arrested without an arrest warrant, accused of evading the draft. He has already served a sentenced for this ‘crime’, and been absolved of the charge of desertion.
The right to conscientious objection to military service is protected under the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right has been reaffirmed recently through the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, who in the case of Bayatyan vs Armenia ruled that conscientious objection to military service is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
As well as being contrary to international standards, there are fears that this new persecution is politically motivated, since Nikos is a well known left-wing activist.
Greece is one of the few countries in Europe to maintain conscription. Article 4 paragraph 6 of the Greek constitution reads: “Every Greek capable of bearing arms is obliged to contribute to the defence of the Fatherland as provided by law”. The right to conscientious objection was first recognised in 1997 with Law 2510/1997, and came into affect in 1998. However, Greece’s provision for conscientious objectors does not meet international standards (2).
WRI is keeping up to date with progress through the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors, and will share updates on our website and on social media. Amnesty International, the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors and the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection will also be sending observers to witness today’s trial.
AmnestyInternational in Greece have issued a press release on the trial.
The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection have issued a press release condemning the Nikos’ trial and strongly condemn the Greek practice of criminalising conscientious objectors more generally. You can read it here.
Until 2010, conscientious objectors in Greece could not apply for substitute service if they have ever served in the army – even just for one day.
2. War Resisters’ International: Conscientious objection to military service in Greece: Human Rights shortfalls, February 2005, http://wri-irg.org/news/2005/greece05a-en.htm
Update: Nikos’ trial has been postponed for two weeks. It will now take place on Friday March 8th.