The trial of protesters against the Beijing Olympics postponed in Greece | Greece

The trial in Greece of activists who protested the holding of the Winter Olympics in Beijing has been postponed amid accusations that proceedings were delayed to avoid embarrassing China on the eve of the Games.

The much-anticipated hearing was due to take place in the town of Pyrgos on Thursday, attended by human rights lawyers from the UK and Athens. The activists, who included a Briton, an American and a Tibetan-Canadian, were arrested when they briefly interrupted the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in October.

“Our appeals to the court for the case to be heard have fallen on deaf ears,” said Michael Polak of legal aid group Justice Abroad, who had traveled from London on behalf of the defendants. “They pushed him into the tall grass so they wouldn’t have to make a decision before the Beijing Olympics.”

Before postponing the trial to December 1, 2022, the presiding judge of the three-member tribunal, Vassiliki Reppa, had instead focused on cases involving boundary violations and other minor disputes.

“We made an express request to bring the case, as it was towards the end of the scheduled hearings, but the judiciary firmly refused to do so,” said Antonis Bachouros, a local lawyer who is also defending the activists. “They could have prioritized the case, given its sensitivity and the seriousness of the charges, but chose not to.”

A court official told The Guardian on Friday that he would not comment on the court’s decision.

Human rights advocates have called for the “grotesque” charges to be dropped.

The trio are accused of attempting to ‘pollute, damage and deform’ a historic monument – punishable by up to five years in prison under Greek law. All three were pinned to the ground before being held in police cells for more than two days after waving a Tibetan flag and unfurling a “Games Without Genocide” banner during the ceremony.

“The protest itself must have lasted less than a minute,” said Free Tibet’s Jason Leith, expressing his disappointment that the trial did not take place. “Our goal has never been to cause damage, and it is absurd to say that we have. All we had was a flag and a banner. We just wanted our voice to be heard in solidarity with all those oppressed by the Chinese Communist Party. »

Speaking from London, where he lives, the 34-year-old described how he was tackled to the ground and told not to move or make noise during the ceremony, which was filmed live by local media. Chinese state, continued. “It was totally peaceful. We had been hiding in the hill above the ruins and when they saw us emerging singing, the security forces jumped up. I had a policeman’s foot on my back for about 15 minutes.

On October 17, a day earlier, two student activists, a Tibetan American and a Hong Kong American, were arrested in Athens as they chanted “Boycott Beijing 2022” and attempted to drape a Tibetan flag and a banner in support of freedom in Hong Kong. Kong of the Acropolis. They too were taken into custody overnight. Their trial, on the same charge, was due to take place last week but was postponed after a snowstorm forced the courts and other parts of the public sector to close.

In both cases, the activists say they are protesting the use of Olympic symbols for propaganda purposes by a Chinese regime responsible for crimes against humanity in Uyghur camps, the repression of Tibetans and the continued repression in Hong Kong.

“There was no destruction or damage to the sites and the accusation is baseless and invalid,” said prominent human rights lawyer Alexis Anagnostakis. “They chose the Acropolis and Olympia as symbols of democracy and the cradle of Western civilization… They deserve praise rather than arrests and handcuffs.”

Rights groups have described the “disproportionate” criminalization of people protesting abuse as particularly worrying. “They are not criminals,” said Pema Doma of New York-based Students For a Free Tibet. “The international community must not allow them to become scapegoats because of Beijing’s growing influence in democratic countries.”

But China-Greece relations experts say the protests will undoubtedly have been seen as an unnecessary irritant. Athens has long been reluctant to censure Chinese President Xi Jinping and infuriated other Western capitals when it vetoed an EU condemnation of China’s human rights record at the UN in 2017.

China is a major investor in the Mediterranean nation, pumping around €1 billion into the country at the height of its debilitating debt crisis, when it acquired a majority stake in the strategic port of Piraeus.

“The Greek authorities, mainly for political reasons, are very reluctant to embarrass China,” said Plamen Tonchev, who heads the Asia unit at the Athens-based Institute of International Economic Relations. “An indication of this caution is its consistent abstention from any statements – and there have been many since 2019 – that are critical of China’s policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.”

Polak said that, despite their disappointment, activists remained determined not only to fight “this politically motivated and ridiculous case”, but to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. “The Greek state is violating its international obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights by pursuing this case, regardless of the final outcome,” he said, adding that freedom of expression and peaceful assembly was considered sacrosanct by the Strasbourg-based court. .

“China’s strong influence on the rulers and institutions of Greece should worry all Greeks, who have a long history and a strong belief in standing up against totalitarianism.”

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