Nikos Romanos’s appeal against a decision denying him leave from prison to attend university classes has been rejected by the deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Vasiliki Theodorou.
It is the third rejection of the request by Romanos whose hunger strike is entering its 30th day in protest of the decision to deny him leave.
Romanos is an avowed anarchist who was friends with Alexis Grigropoulos, the 15 year old who was murdered by a policeman on the streets of Athens on December 6th, 2008, in a killing that triggered widespread protests. Romanos was with Grigoropoulos on the night of the murder and many believe that his friend’s death helped push him towards his extreme anti-establishment views.
Romanos, 21, who is serving a fifteen year prison sentence for armed robbery of a bank, had gained a place at an Athens university after taking the pan-Hellenic high school exams as part of a prison educational program. Despite having been praised for his efforts by the Justice Minister himself and offered a meeting with the President of the Republic, Romanos’s application to the prison board for leave to attend the university was subsequently denied.
The legal justification for that decision was that other charges are pending against Romanos. According to the law governing educational prison leave, when applicants face charges, the magistrate pressing the charges must rule in favour of the application. However in Romanos’s case the magistrate ruled against it, stating that he believed Romanos posed a flight risk. Romanos subsequently filed an appeal with a Piraeus court who upheld the magistrate’s decision.
Now the Supreme Court deputy prosecutor has also upheld the magistrate’s, decision effectively dealing the final legal blow to Romanos’s request.
Many legal experts consider the decisions compliant with the law governing educational leave from prison.
However Romanos’s supporters believe that he is the victim of persecution for his political beliefs. They argue that there is little evidence to support the charges Romanos faces – namely that he is a member of the revolutionary group ‘Conspiracy of Fire’. Romanos has already been acquitted once of belonging to the group during his trial over the armed robbery.
They also maintain that Romanos triggered the wrath of the state when he refused to participate in a ceremony for him and other successful inmate students and meet the Justice Minister and the President of the Republic. They imply that far from being independent of the political leadership of the Justice Ministry, the magistrate was carrying out unofficial orders when he denied Romanos educational leave.
They argue that the state has behaved illogically – seeking to praise and celebrate Romanos when he gained a place at university, only to subsequently deny him educational leave, rendering his university career stillborn.
Today a legal amendment to allow inmates to complete university courses by distance learning is to be tabled in parliament. The Justice Ministry claims that this will offer a way out of the impasse.
But opponents believe the proposal to be unworkable in practice – particularly given the dire state of Greek prisons which are chronically over-crowded and lack even basic infrastructure.
Romanos also opposes the legislation vehemently and has announced, through his lawyer, his intention to proceed with a thirst strike in the event the amendment is tabled, arguing that he does not want to become the excuse for prisoner rights to be further eroded.