UN finds poor conditions in Greek jails

UN`s top anti-torture envoy says Greek prisons were in a situation of crisis.

Athens: Conditions in Greek prison and police station detention facilities are often "appalling”, with severe overcrowding and limited access to health care, the United Nations` top anti-torture envoy said on Wednesday.

Manfred Nowak - who spent 10 days touring prisons, police and border guard stations, migrant detention centres and prison hospitals across the country - said Greek detention facilities were "in a situation of crisis”, with some holding three times more people than their capacity.

Greek Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said Nowak`s observations and proposals would be taken into consideration and used in planned legislation.

Nowak said he received numerous and consistent allegations of beatings by police during or after arrests, but that there was little forensic evidence and few cases of ill-treatment that could be defined as torture.

"My main concern is what I would call a veritable detention crisis, a detention emergency, presently in Greece," Nowak told a news conference, stressing that while the country`s prison system can hold a maximum of 9,100 people, there are more than 12,000 prisoners. Of those, 57 percent are foreigners.

"In all prisons visited, I witnessed a situation of severe overcrowding," Nowak said.

The problem is partly caused by the fact that many illegal immigrants in the EU enter the bloc through Greece, which puts an unfair burden of the problem on the country, Nowak said, while the situation also is exacerbated by the fact that 41 percent of those being held are in pretrial detention.

Under Greek law, a suspect can be held for up to 18 months pending trial. However, they are housed with convicts rather than separately, a practice which Nowak described as "a clear violation of international law”.