Thousands of Greek prisoners in hunger strike

Other News Materials 11 November 2008 22:12 (UTC +04:00)

Thousands of Greek prison inmates were staging a hunger strike to protest overcrowding and poor living conditions, a prison rights group said Tuesday, CNN reported.

Some 4,000 have been refusing all food but drinking liquids for a week, while another 4,000 were rejecting prison meals but accepting food from visiting friends and relatives, Prisoners' Rights Initiative said.

That would mean 8,000 inmates -- or two-thirds of Greece's 12,200 prison population -- were participating in the strike to some degree. The Justice Ministry, however, put the total number of participants at 6,500. There was no immediate way of reconciling the differing tolls or independently confirming either of them.

The prisoners are demanding better living conditions, including improved health care and less time in pretrial detention -- demands that have gained support from the local Amnesty International office, lawyers' associations and former political prisoners including composer Mikis Theodorakis, jailed during Greece's 1967-74 military dictatorship.

Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis said he would meet members of the protest campaign group Wednesday.

"This is an uprising of desperate people," said protest organizer Panos Lambrou, who is not an inmate.

Greece's 24 prisons are designed to hold a total of 8,000 inmates, according to government figures, but Lambrou said they often fail to provide basic health and sanitation facilities and offer few job-training opportunities.

A government committee on prison policy offered the justice minister a list of recommendations Tuesday that it said could lead to the release of 1,500 inmates.

The proposals include early release provisions for minor offenses, making more crimes punishable by fines instead of jail time and more lenient parole guidelines for drug abusers.