Greek police accused of using girl as human shield during Merkel protest

Fury at photos of protester being frogmarched by officers as they confronted stone-throwing mob during German chancellor's Athens visit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2012, 4:19am

Greek authorities have launched an investigation into allegations that riot police used a young female protester as a human shield at a rally during the visit to Athens by German chancellor Dr Angela Merkel this week.

Witnesses said the girl, who has yet to be identified, was frogmarched in handcuffs ahead of riot police as protesters threw stones at officers.

News of the investigation came as magistrates launched a separate inquiry into a Guardian report that anti-fascist protesters, arrested after clashing with extremists from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, were subjected to torture by officers at the Attica General Police Directorate.

Human Rights Watch said accountability for police abuse was urgently needed.

The group said: "The scenes described by the victims are deeply shocking. No one should be treated that way by police."

The inquiry into the human- shield allegation was opened after photographs of the incident circulated on the internet.

The girl, her face daubed in white anti-tear-gas solution and with a pink rucksack on her back, is seen being escorted by riot police before being placed in front of the unit when it faces up to stone-throwing protesters.

Witnesses said she appeared to be disoriented and terrified as she was marched through Athens in handcuffs.

Foula Pharmacides took part in the demonstration outside parliament, but fled when police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. She described terror on the girl's face.

"When the protesters started throwing things, the cop holding the girl takes her from the front of the unit to the back to face them and he starts moving her like a shield from left to right.

"The girl was falling down and he was picking her up again. She was crying and clearly terrified. I couldn't believe it.

"Everyone started screaming, 'Shame on you! Shame on you!'

"I remember there were two women next to me and they were crying, too, and screaming for the police to stop."

Another witness, Sokratis Michalopoulos, said: "I don't think I will ever forget her face. It was as if she were an object not a human being and I think she was in shock. She was definitely being used as a shield.

"Thank God photographers were there and we now have cameras on phones, otherwise people would think we were mad. No one would believe us."

As Greece descends into further chaos amid social and political tensions, accusations of police brutality are growing.

The heavy-handedness has been attributed to links between the police force and the far-right Golden Dawn, whose popularity has surged due to soaring crime and anti-immigrant hysteria.

Prominent leftist activist Panos Garganas said: "The police are angry. They're overstretched, underpaid and increasingly anti-government and radicalised - in this case to the right."