The prisoners' hunger strike

On the 3rd of November, the Greek prisoners launched a major struggle that quickly spread to all twenty-one prisons in the country Prisoners released sixteen principal demands and announced their struggle would take three stages: first, the refusal of prison food; second, full hunger strike; and third, if the authorities had still not agreed to the demands, a general uprising.

Their demands were:

1. Abolition of cumulative disciplinary charges.
2. Reduction of the sentence limit (the proportion of the sentence the prisoner had to serve, as a minimum) from 3/5 to 3/7 and abolition of the 4/5 limit for drug related crimes.
3. A 3-year reduction of all sentences to relieve overcrowding, and rejection of the new panopticon prisons that isolate the prisoners from the urban social body.
4. Abolition of all juvenile prisons, and their replacement with open structures meant to take care of youth.
5. Reduction of the sentence limit that allows 25 years of continuous detention. Reduction of the minimum detention time for conditional release from 16 to 12 years.
6. Reduction of mandatory minimums, more days of furlough.
7. Limited use of pretrial detention and shortened maximum pretrial detention to 12 months from 18.
8. Against the use of vengeful sentencing meant to kill prisoners with long sentences. Shorter sentences and greater use of suspended sentences and conditional release.
9. 24-hour full medical service and psychiatric service, improved hygiene in baths and toilets, transportation to hospitals in ambulances, not in police cars.
10. The right to paid work, classes, technical training, and access to education outside the prisons.
11 Free access to the prisons for social and political institutions, lawyers, doctors, human rights organisations and international organisations, free circulation of political and educational press with no exceptions.
12. Alternative forms of detention such as agricultural prisons and partial liberty as well as community service.
13. Increase of free visits with privacy.
14, Work and access to creative activities for all, and sentence reduction for work.
15. Right to serve their sentence in the country of origin for people from other countries, if they choose.
16. Humane and faster transportation between prisons.

In the first stage, 8,000 of Greece’s 12,300 prisoners participated in the first stage. Starting November 7, 1,000 prisoners went on hunger strike, though the number soon grew to 7,000, with seventeen having sewn their mouths shut. Thousands of non-participating prisoners supported the strike and helped fellow prisoners who were in a weakened condition due to fasting. Many anarchist prisoners participated in the hunger strike, while others wrote and circulated texts in support, while criticising the tactics of hunger striking and the making of demands. Many solidarity actions were realised outside the prisons, including concerts, huge protest marches, and attacks.

On November 20, the government caved to most of the demands, agreeing to reduce Greece’s prison population to 6,800 by April, releasing all prisoners who had served 1/5 of their sentence, if under two years, and 1/3 of their sentence, if longer, without exceptions. The government announced that additionally; the law would be changed so that for all sentences under five years, the convicted person could pay a fine proportionate to the sentence instead of going to prison; pretrial detention would be limited at twelve months for many offences; furloughs would increase slightly; accumulative disciplinary penalties would be limited but not abolished; and more people with serious health problems such as AIDS would be granted conditional release. It is worth noting that juvenile prisons, a key component in the disciplinary transformation of society under neoliberalism, were not abolished, and most of the reforms affected those with shorter sentences, thus dividing them from the long-term, non-reformable prisoners, those considered to be hardened criminals.

The Prisoners' Committee responded by calling off their hunger strike, but announcing that:

We the prisoners treat this amendment as a first step, a result of our struggle and of the solidarity shown by society. Yet it fails to cover us, it fails to solve our problems. With our struggle, we have first of all fought for our dignity. And this dignity we cannot offer as a present to any minister nor any screw. We shall tolerate no arbitrary acts, no vengeful relocations, no terrorising disciplinary act. We are standing and we shall stay standing... Finally, we offer our thanks to the solidarity movement, to every component, party medium, and militant who stood by us with all and any means of his or her choice, and we declare that our struggle against these human refuse dumps and for the victory of all our demands continues.