A Greek court has sparked an “unprecedented racist scandal” after it cleared farmers who shot and wounded 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers when they asked to be paid.
In a verdict described as “an outrage and a disgrace” and which led to protests outside the court in the southern city of Patras, the owner of the farm and head foreman were cleared of all charges – which included human trafficking.
The incident in April last year saw farmers turn their shotguns on migrant workers in Manolada who had asked to be recompensed for six months of unpaid labour. Dozens were injured, four of them severely.
Media investigations found they and workers like them had been living and working in squalid conditions without basic sanitation, and the case brought attention to the plight of foreign workers in Greece’s desperate economy.
Yet despite admitting the shooting, two farmers were acquitted yesterday.
Two others were convicted of aggravated assault and illegal use of firearms and given sentences of 14 years and seven months and eight years and seven months – but they too were allowed to walk free from court pending appeals.
The court’s verdict has been roundly criticised by politicians and activists alike, and the victims’ lawyer, Moisis Karabeyidis, said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
He said: “This decision is an outrage and a disgrace … The court showed an appalling attitude toward the victims.”
Protesters outside a court in the city of Patras, Greece after it convicted two employees at a strawberry farm for shooting and wounding workers protesting unpaid wages – but the farm’s owner and head foreman were cleared (AP)Protesters gathered outside the court building expressed their despair on Wednesday that the four defendants were released, with some crying in disappointment.
And in a rare criticism of a court verdict, Greece’s biggest labour union described it as “against the public sense of justice and fairness”.
“To shoot and injure people … who dared to ask for six months in unpaid wages cannot be described as a mere assault,” the GSEE union said.
“We express our dissatisfaction with the acquittal of a businessman and his associates who are responsible for the … mistreatment of 200 workers, mostly from Bangladesh, at the site, who live in squalid conditions and without working rights and who had been left unpaid,” it said.
An immigrant who works in Greece cries outside a court in the southwest city of Patras, Greece, on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 (AP)Petros Constantinou, coordinator of Greece’s Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat, told the Guardian the case represented an “unprecedented racist scandal”.
“The hundreds of millions of profit made in the strawberry industry cannot come about by shooting labourers in strawberry fields,” he said.
Vassiliki Katrivanou, an MP with the main opposition radical-left Syriza party, noted that the decision came on the UN’s first World Day against Trafficking in Persons, and said that the Manolada shooting was far from an isolated incident.
She said the court decision “sends the message that a foreign worker can die like a dog in the orchard”.
“It leaves room for new victims by closing eyes to the brutal, inhuman and racist character of the exploitation suffered by workers on the land,” she said.