Nikos Romanos: From Aggressor to Victim

The Greek state has an uncanny ability to haphazardly follow the letter of the law, often neglecting the wider picture, thereby creating issues that tend to cause an uproar without there being any sound substantial reason.

It recently occurred with a young offender, Nikos Romanos,who has been emprisoned for 14 months in Avlona, near Athens, convicted of taking part in an armed robbery in the northern town of Velvento in February of 2013. Along with three other accomplices, Romanos was sentenced to fifteen years for the burglary but, more importantly, even though the charges were dropped, also stood accused of being an active member of the urban guerrilla group, "Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire."

Interestingly, during his time in prison, Romanos took it upon himself to prepare for the rigorous entrance exams of the School of Business Administration of Athens which he eventually passed. Indeed, the state was so impressed that it awarded him 500 euros for his success and invited him to meet the president of the Republic, both of which the 21-year-old refused.

Romanos subsequently applied to attend his university courses as he is so entitled by Greek law. According to the pertinent regulation, he may leave his cell for 24-hour periods in order to pursue his studies, so long as he returns to prison in the evening.

Regardless, the Greek state went on to refuse his request leading Romanos, claiming his right to an education, to begin a hunger strike on November 10. Over two weeks later, on November 28, he was eventually transferred to hospital under stringent police custody where, according to his lawyer and a family doctor who was allowed to visit him, Romanos' condition is critical and deteriorating.

Following the Public Prosecutor of Piraeus' refusal to entertain Romanos' demands, the case was taken up by the Greek Minister of Justice, Charalambos Athanasiou, who, in a lengthy statement, washed his hands of the matter, referring it to a higher legal body. Athanasiou is none other than the Minister who originally praised Romanos for his achievements.

In the meantime, the young man's health continues to worsen and various task groups, from lawyers to doctors to hospital officials, are urgently calling on the Government to find a quick political solution to the dilemma.

It turns out that a similar sabbatical was granted to a pathologically jealous murderer, Panagiotis Frantzi, who strangled his wife and "dismembered her body in a way even a butcher would be jealous of." Back in 1997, Frantzi, a student at Athens' Economic University, was granted a special educational leave so he could follow, at a minimum, the mandatory courses of his curriculum.

In the two cases, the Greek government is guilty of applying a double standard. For, in the instance of Frantzi, a convicted murderer, it granted him permission to study. With respect to Romanos, on the other hand, the authorities are pretending that no legal framework exists for granting such a furlough. Rather, it has left him to slowly wilt away in the throes of a hunger strike that could, potentially, cost him his life.

In the meantime, Romanos' youthful co-prisoners have initiated their own, parallel hunger strikes, further complicating things for the government. The perplexed state has inadvertently created a group of "heroes" with Romanos taking on the persona of a victim rather than that of a felon. By refusing his self-evident right to higher education, it has allowed him to take advantage of the situation and generate significant public sympathy. With their bureaucratic bumbling, the authorities have transformed Romanos and his co-conspirators from armed aggressors who plundered to finance their activities into defenders worthy of compassion.

Obviously, the state's position is untenable as it is unacceptable to grant clemency to a convicted murderer while, at same time, denying it to an armed robber. The fiasco that has ensued is proof, once again, of how the Greek authorities are too often lacking in their political decision making and of how a government can fall prey to its bureaucracy when a clear legislative framework is not in place.