World|Protests and Vandalism Follow Hit Manâs Hunger Strike
ATHENS â A monthslong hunger strike by a jailed hit man for Greeceâs deadliest terrorist group has fueled vehement debate here about the convictâs rights, with street protests and a barrage of arson attacks as a political fight about him intensifies.
The hit man, Dimitris Koufodinas, 63, is serving 11 life sentences and began his hunger strike on Jan. 8, after the authorities rejected his demand for a prison transfer. He was imprisoned for his role in the activities of a far-leftist guerrilla group known as November 17 that was active from 1975 to 2002.
The group killed 23 people, including a C.I.A. station chief in Athens, a British military attachÃ© and several Greek businessmen, as well as Pavlos Bakoyannis, the brother-in-law of the current conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Mr. Koufodinas had requested a transfer from a prison in central Greece to the Korydallos Prison in Athens, where he was originally incarcerated in 2003 along with other members of November 17. He was moved into his current jail from a low-security facility in December.
The conservative government has refused to give in, accusing the convicted man â who has successfully used hunger strikes in the past to press his demands â of blackmail.
A statement issued by Mr. Mitsotakisâs office on Saturday, shortly after doctors signaled that Mr. Koufodinasâs health had seriously deteriorated, said the government would not permit âpreferential treatment and violations of the law.â
As the standoff intensified, Mr. Koufodinasâs lawyer, Ioanna Kourtovik, on Wednesday accused the government of vindictive and illegal tactics, saying she had lodged a legal appeal for her clientâs sentence to be suspended. âHis life is at risk,â she told Greek television.
The governmentâs hard line and the convictâs deteriorating health have caught the attention of leftist sympathizers and the Greek establishment.
As his hunger strike entered its 54th day on Tuesday, thousands of people rallied in his support in Athens for the second day in a row. Protests continued Wednesday.
The police were out in force after a spate of vandalism by anarchists expressing solidarity with Mr. Koufodinas. Police stations in the capital have been pelted with homemade firebombs almost daily for the past two months.
The topic has dominated social media in Greece. Several lawyers, academics and journalists have complained that their Facebook accounts have been restricted after they posted photographs of rallies in support of Mr. Koufodinas or expressed support for his rights.
The issue has divided Greek judges, with the countryâs union calling on the government to review its stance as other judges insist on impartiality. The relatives of November 17âs victims, however, have asked Mr. Koufodinas to stop his hunger strike, saying it is raking up painful memories.
Opposition parties have appealed to the government to change course. The leftist Syriza party warned that Greece âmust not become the first European country in 40 years to have a dead hunger striker,â while the center-left Movement for Change urged against turning the convicted man into a âsymbol for struggle.â
Nicknamed âpoison handâ by the Greek media, Mr. Koufodinas is an unlikely martyr, having never expressed regret for his actions with November 17. The groupâs name derives from the date in 1973 when Greeceâs oppressive military dictatorship quashed a student uprising against its rule, killing 23 people.
Some terrorism experts fear the hunger strike could spur new violence as it galvanizes Greek anti-establishment groups. âThese groups are already recruiting new members,â said Mary Bossis, professor of international security at the University of Piraeus, near Athens.
In the event of his death, she said, âwe could even see a resurgence of domestic terrorism.â
Ms. Bossis blamed the deadlock over Mr. Koufodinas on the failure of Greek political parties to reach a consensus on how to deal with terrorism and convicted terrorists.
Some opposition lawmakers have argued that a law passed by the conservatives last year permits a prison transfer. The government has rebuffed this claim, criticizing the previous leftist administration as being too lenient with Mr. Koufodinas, moving him to a low-security agricultural prison in 2018 when he was granted several furloughs.
âSince the 1970s, parties argued about how to tackle terrorists instead of seeking consensus,â Ms. Bossis said. âWe should have never reached this point.â
Originally posted on https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/Dimitris-Koufodinas-hunger-strike-protests-greece.html