Twenty-one year old Nikos Romanos has been on hunger strike for 27 days and is now close to death. This weekend Athens erupted once again in riots as more than 6000 protesters came out in support of Romanos, to commemorate the killing by a policeman of Romanos’ friend Alexis Grigoropoulos in 2008, and also to protest against ongoing austerity. Over the last few days many of Athens’s municipal and university buildings have been occupied by protesters. On Saturday protesters threw petrol bombs at police and set bank ATMs, cars and shops on fire.
Nikos Romanos is being held in a secure area of an Athens hospital and is guarded by armed police. He is serving a sentence of 16 years for his part in an armed robbery in which no one was hurt. Romanos’ hunger strike began after the authorities refused to allow him the opportunity to continue his education. Romanos’ parents believe their son participated in the robbery because he was so angry at what happened to his best friend Grigoropoulos (at the time his 15 year old friend was killed by the police Romanos was also only 15 years old). When Romanos was arrested for the armed robbery he was so badly beaten up his face was unrecognisable and for the press release the police were forced to issue a photoshoped version.
Romanos’ supporters – which include the leftist Syriza party – are seeking leniency. Some demand that arrangements be made so that Romanos can continue his education; others that he be released immediately as an act of clemency given that his sentence clearly did not take into account his youth, the psychological trauma of losing his friend, and the torture he received on his arrest.
All in all, Nikos Romanos has become a symbol in Greece of widespread anger at an out-of-control police force – which has been shown to have colluded with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in their attacks on immigrants – the continuing austerity measures that has seen massive unemployment, and of a government rife with corruption (the leaking of the infamous Lagarde list of tax dodgers amongst Greece’s elite being just one example).