Struggles and Revolts in Greek Prisons

By Fabrika Yfanet

On April 9 an uprising erupted in Eleonas prison in Thebes, after the death of a 38-year-old prisoner in ward E, who was found dead in the morning, probably from covid-19 epidemic. Her name was Atitze Demiroglou and she had Roma origins. [1]

Detainees complained that their fellow detainee might have died of coronavirus, since she had fever, shortness of breath and severe cough in the past few days, but she was not taken to hospital and she was only given aspirin. Along with her in the ward were 14 other detainees, who complained by knocking on the cell door, calling for medical help, but prison guards ignored them. In addition, the detainees reported that another detainee, also Roma, lost her life about 1 month ago for the same reasons.

The inmates in more than two different prison wings, set their mattresses on fire and revolted.

The Ministry of Civil Protection made a statement that the woman was taken this morning by the National Emergency Aid Centre (EKAB) ambulance to a local hospital, where she ended up dead. In contrast, her co-detainees in Thebes say the 38-year-old died in prison at night.

Some hours after the uprising the General Secretary of Anti-Crime Policy Sofia Nikolaou announced “The death of the detainee in Thebes is due to pathological causes and not because of the coronavirus”. She also added that the uprising had been brought under control.

The detainees made an announcement about the events of the first day. This is the announcement translated in English:

Announcement of women prisoners, April 9, 2020

Today, 9th of April, prisoner Azizel Nteniroglou died in her ward, helpless. She had underlying heart problems and high fever and she was calling out for help all night because she had chest pain and could not breathe. According to witnesses, they didn’t even take her temperature and we don’t know her exact death cause. The responsible guard on shift threatened to report her because she was annoying. Her lifeless body was dragged outside with a bedsheet, in front of the shocked eyes of the inmates of her prison wing. The tragic event happened in wing E, where approx. 120 people are crammed. The prisoners revolted and the insurrection spread all over the prison. One month ago another prisoner died. The criminal indifference for the prisoners and their health transforms the sentences of many prisoners to death sentences. The government and the ministry are responsible for the death of the prisoner. We demand the immediate release of fragile groups: sick prisoners, mothers with their toddlers and elderly women, which represent one third of the total prisoners. We will not return to our cells until the end!”

At the same night detainees announced that they will stay out of their cells until 11 pm, they will keep the prison open during the next day and that they will walk out of the beneficial prison work. [2] They asked for relieving the congestion of the prison because of the epidemic and also for an immediate release of all the women that are considered as vulnerable groups (ill persons, women with children, old women) and the ones who had served the 2/5 of their sentences. After their announcement that they will keep on their struggle, the special police force entered the prison and attacked violently the detainees. Many of them were beaten so hard, that they were taken to the hospital. The next day many of the women who took part in the revolt where brought again into trial for the protest in the prison.

Earlier on the 20th March, the women prisoners of Korydallos prison refused to enter their cells during the noon lockout, thus starting a first mobilization to claim the demands they have made concerning the management of the situation prevailing in the prisons, due to the covid-19 epidemic. The protest stopped when the prison service announced the Ministry’s decision: if the prisoners did not end the mobilization they would be locked in their cells for 24 hours. More than half of the prisoners, intimidated by the threat, returned to their cells, ending the mobilization.

Since April 14, prisoners from the male wing of Korydallos prison stated that they would abstain from the beneficial prison work until the state starts the decongestion of the prison by releasing many prisoners. They also asked for security measures, fewer prison guards and cessation of transfers until the end of the lockdown.

Since April 16, prisoners from Domokos prison, a high-security prison, announced that they would abstain from beneficial prison work and from lunch.

The General Secretary of Anti-Crime Policy, Mrs. Sofia Nikolaou, 20 days ago made some statements for an act of legislative content that would lead to the decongestion of the prisons during the epidemic. Since then nothing has happened. After the lockdown measures, the Ministry of Civil Protection restricted free visits to prisons, and promotes a complete ban on the import of food and clothing for prisoners. The full implementation of the measures would cause inconvenience to thousands of prisoners and their relatives. Moreover, lawyers have also expressed dissatisfaction, as there are difficulties in visits and negotiations with their clients who are being held in the country’s prisons.

Usually there is lack of medical care inside the prisons in Greece and there are lot of people who have chronic diseases (like cancer) that continue to be imprisoned until their death. Even in the cases that some detainees are moved to the prison’s hospital (not all prisons have a hospital department), usually the hygiene conditions are really bad and this situation causes even more problems to people who are already sick.

It seems that more protests will erupt in Greek prisons, as also in detention camps of migrants, because of the terrible conditions of life and the absence of any medical care. The problem is that no one seems to be able to stand in solidarity with their struggles (also because of the lockdown measures), so the repression of the state will be harder and harder. The isolation of their confinement, makes these struggles harder to be supported, especially taking into account that the only social movement in Greece in the last two years has come from the far right. As a result, their struggles may stop and start suddenly, not because of their inner limits, but because of the violence of the state.


[1] There are many people with Roma origins in Greek prisons. Most of them have Greek citizenship but they are often mistreated by the Greek state and police. In addition, the Greek government has issued special restrictions for Romani people during the pandemic, such as restricting the entry/exit of their camps and putting policemen around them as guards.

[2] In greek prisons, in some cases, the detainees can work in order to get a reduction of their sentence.

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