Amnesty says Greek police using COVID-19 pandemic to crush protests

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Amnesty International accused Greek police of using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to impose blanket bans on protests and apply excessive force to crush peaceful demonstrations.

Street protests are common in Greece, and several have taken place in recent months on issues ranging from a new labor law to Israeli attacks on Gaza, or a hunger strike by a far-left militant political gunman.

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Amnesty said Greek police had used “arbitrary arrests, blanket bans, unjustified fines and unlawful use of force” from November 2020 through March.

“Governments do not have carte blanche to restrict human rights, even during a pandemic,” the London-based rights group said in a report published on Wednesday.

A police spokesperson declined to comment on the report on Wednesday and said a response would be issued in due course.

Citing interviews with participants in a number of protests, Amnesty said authorities “resorted unnecessarily to the use of water cannon and chemical irritants” such as tear gas.

It said some protesters told Amnesty that police hit them on their heads with batons and used stun grenades in a way that could cause serious injury including hearing problems.

Police also used unlawful force in checks on compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, Amnesty said, referring to an incident in March when an officer was suspended for the beating of a man in an Athens suburb. That incident led to protests against police violence.

The government has imposed several lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus since the pandemic began, which restricted movement to those going to or returning from work, shopping for food or medicines or visiting a doctor.

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