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A woman murdered every month: is this Greece’s moment of reckoning on femicide? | Femicide

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When a woman reported domestic violence in her building in the Athens suburb of Dafni in July, it took 25 minutes for the police to arrive. All the neighbours could hear Anisa’s husband abusing her but the police officers did not bother to get out of the patrol car. “They just rolled down their car windows and left,” Anisa’s neighbour angrily wrote on Facebook that evening. “No stress, guys. Television only cares about the bodies. So when he kills her, I’ll tell a television channel to call you.”

Less than three weeks later, Anisa was dead, murdered by her husband. Neither can be named in full as the case has yet to reach trial. In a statement to police, the perpetrator described how he was overcome with jealousy after Anisa allegedly cheated on him. “I took the knife with my right hand and entered her room. She was sleeping, and I rushed to her and lay on her, stabbing her with the knife in her neck,” he said. He later retracted his claim that Anisa was asleep when he killed her.

“He finally killed her. That’s all I have to say,” their neighbour wrote on Facebook after the murder. At the time, Anisa’s murder was the sixth femicide in Greece this year. Since then, at least another six women across the country have been murdered by their partners or ex-partners.

Feminist groups estimate that at least one woman in Greece dies at the hands of a man each month, often their partner or ex-partner. Of the 11 victims of femicide so far this year, two had previously tried to report their attacker for domestic violence before they were murdered, but none of the men had been charged or convicted. A third woman in the coastal city of Volos was in the process of trying to obtain a restraining order when she was stabbed to death by her ex-husband.

The spate of femicides throughout this year have shone a spotlight on police failings when it comes to combatting violence against women, including accusations from victims’ families that statements from officials acted as a blueprint for would-be attackers on how to kill with impunity.

Lawyers and campaigners also point to clauses in the Greek penal code that they say enable a culture of impunity around violence against women. These allow reduced sentences for those accused of homicide if they were “provoked” or the crime was committed in a rage – often referred to as a “crime of passion” – or if the accused displayed good behaviour before the incident and showed guilt afterwards. They say adding femicide as a motive to the penal code would act as a vital counterweight, denying perpetrators the opportunity to present themselves in court as innocent men suddenly overcome by emotion that justified murder.

Domestic violence figures

Ioanna Panagopoulou, a lawyer who represents the families of several victims of femicide, says: “No one in my entire career has ever taken full responsibility, confessing they planned the murder exactly as it happened. They try to make excuses and say it was a crime of passion or something else so they get a lesser sentence.”

Panagopoulou is a forceful presence. She flips through a legal dictionary, a wall covered in religious icons behind her, as she describes how broadly courts can interpret clauses in the penal code that allow for reduced sentences for femicide. “If the person cooperates with the police afterwards, that’s considered good behaviour,” she says, adding that she receives calls about domestic violence every single day. “Most days I receive two or three,” she says, spreading her hands wide to show the scope of the problem.

Families of victims say that lax punishment for femicide is just one of several ways in which the Greek state fails women, including ignoring them when they report domestic violence. Campaigners say this can prove deadly, as police inaction emboldens perpetrators and can result in femicide. Data from the Hellenic police, the national force, shows a steady rise in domestic violence reports over the past decade.

“There is a culture of violence towards women,” says Anna Razou, a forensic doctor at an Athens hospital who assesses survivors of domestic violence. Razou says she has also seen a rise in complaints, including an unusual spike this year during Greece’s annual holiday month of August, which is normally a quiet period. She views this as a sign that Greek women feel increasingly compelled to report violence in the wake of Greece’s #MeToo movement, which began earlier this year.

“Everyone’s talking about how important it is to stop the violence, but we can’t do that just by saying it’s bad. We need laws, and to be strict,” says Razou. She says few women she meets press charges against their abuser, and those who do often retract their claims, swayed by a culture that tells women that male violence is excusable, as well as a recently passed law that can force women to share custody of their children with their abusers.

Data from the Greek justice ministry shows consistently low rates of prosecutions and convictions under a 2006 law criminalising domestic violence. An average of just 3,566 men a year have been prosecuted for domestic violence since 2016. Conviction rates are also low: on average, just 23% of men prosecuted were convicted, and the vast majority received suspended sentences.

An activist holds a placard reading ‘the law forces women into silence’ at a protest in May over a controversial law giving divorced fathers equal time with their children. Rights groups say it ignores victims of domestic violence and puts women and children at risk.
An activist outside the Greek parliament in Athens with a sign saying ‘the law forces women into silence.’ Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty

The percentage of men serving prison time after domestic violence convictions also fell from a high of 16.4% in 2016 to as low as 6% in 2019 even as convictions for domestic violence hit a five-year peak. It is this environment, campaigners say, that discourages women from reporting domestic violence at all.

Anisa’s relatives believe that night in mid-July was the turning point. They say the lack of police intervention allowed the perpetrator to believe he could kill with impunity. The two officers who failed to get out of their car and investigate have since been suspended.

“The murder was planned. He knew exactly what he was doing,” says Anisa’s cousin Christina, who wanted to keep her surname private. Christina, an elegant 22-year-old, tries to contain her anger, folding her delicately manicured hands as she speaks. “Then he washed his hands and cleaned himself up. He was very thorough. Then he went to the police. He did exactly what Balaskas said,” she says, referring to a senior member of Greece’s police union.

Rape reporting figures

Stavros Balaskas made headlines after the murder of the British-born Caroline Crouch by her husband, Charalambos “Babis” Anagnostopoulos, in June. Anagnostopoulos confessed following a month-long manhunt after initially blaming the murder on a gang of robbers, and was arrested at Crouch’s memorial service. The incident captured the Greek news cycle, so much so that most people refer to Crouch just by her first name, a byword for violence against women.

Caroline Crouch, 20, whose husband has confessed to her murder.
Caroline Crouch, 20, whose husband has confessed to her murder. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

For more than five weeks, Anagnostopoulos, a flight instructor, had maintained the crime was the result of a robbery, in which he and Crouch had been tied up and gagged, until he admitted he had fabricated the story to conceal the killing.

In a television interview later that month, Balaskas claimed that if Anagnostopoulos had confessed immediately, he may have received a reduced sentence. “It was an unfortunate event, committed in anger, and he lost it and went crazy. If he had just called the police, he would have gotten four years in prison,” he said. “If the moment this man killed Caroline, he called [the police] and said, ‘I had a fight with my wife and I killed her,’ he would have had a different kind of treatment.”

A number of femicides that occurred after Balaskas’s statement involved perpetrators immediately telling the police what they had done. Victims’ families believe his statements emboldened would-be perpetrators, enabling the idea that accused men can sway courts by displaying behaviour that match the clauses in the penal code. “Don’t advise future murderers and make their lives easier,” says Christina.

Balaskas claimed the quote was taken out of context, and shrugged off any suggestion that, unintentionally or otherwise, his statement acted as a guide for violent men. “I have a name as a tough guy,” he said. “I have a reputation for this. Some people want to use this against me, but people who know me understand.” He said combating the rise in domestic violence in Greece required women to speak up.

Other victims’ families say Balakas’s statement epitomises a macho culture in the Hellenic police that often fails to take domestic violence seriously, producing gaps in policing that enable femicide. “There’s no option to talk – that’s why women don’t talk. Our society is patriarchal,” says Sofia Karasachinidou, who, with her sister, Maria, is mourning their mother, who was shot by their father earlier this year.

The two women say their father terrorised their family since they were young, but his brutal attacks on their mother increased after their divorce in 2017, sometimes even taking place publicly.

The sisters estimate that their mother reported their father to the police at least eight times after the divorce, including once in 2018 when their father filed a counter-claim that led to the pair being held in the same cell overnight. The police, they say, then just advised their mother to avoid their father, in their Athens suburb of Agia Varvara, but offered no other solutions.

In June, their father shot their mother in the shoulder and head, fatally wounding her. When Sofia arrived at the police cordon around the crime scene, she struggled to convince officers their father was responsible. “I told the police, ‘My mother called so many times. How could you let this happen?’” says Sofia. “They do nothing for domestic violence. They don’t care.”

Their father turned himself in the day after the shooting and will stand trial for homicide as well as illegal possession of a firearm. The sisters fear he will receive a lenient sentence. “We are both afraid for our lives,” says Maria.

The Hellenic police are attempting to change how they handle domestic violence after Greece signed the Istanbul convention on violence against women two years ago. This includes a new department to monitor how the police process domestic violence complaints as well as setting up a network of 72 police stations across the country where at least one or two officers are trained in how to treat survivors of abuse.

Yet Sofia Kyriacou, an officer in the new police department, denies that the Hellenic police have historically had problems aiding survivors of domestic violence. “Sometimes it’s useful to criticise and focus on problems, but this means you will not focus on things going well,” she says. “Many police officers do their best and more within their responsibilities to help these victims.”

Feminist activists paint a different picture, saying that violence against women has reached such epidemic proportions in Greece that they are left with no other option than to intervene. Traditionally at odds with a police force that Amnesty International accused of flouting international human rights law in its alleged abuse of protesters and minorities, activists said they are now working with the police to change attitudes towards domestic violence and make it easier for women to report these crimes. The feminist group Diotima says they have trained at least 150 police officers on how to identify abuse, how to listen to survivors and what the law proscribes.

“Gender-based violence is one end of a continuum. The other end is femicide,” says Anna Vouyioukas of Diotima. “It’s become obvious in Greece. Domestic violence can lead to femicide, and that you cannot change because it means death.”

Christina agrees. “The state does nothing for women,” she says, shaking her head. “So many femicides and they do nothing.”

In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org

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Marlon Botas: Montserrat Bendimes: Why the young Mexican student’s murder has gone unpunished | International

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Montserrat Bendimes in a social media photograph.
Montserrat Bendimes in a social media photograph.RR.SS.

Her family says that during the time that Montserrat Bendimes was hospitalized with severe trauma, the 20-year-old engineering student uttered the following sentence before she died: “It was Marlon.” The young woman had been admitted in April of last year after her partner allegedly gave her a brutal beating that kept her on life support until her body gave out. By then, the main suspect was already unaccounted for.

With his parents’ help, according to the State Prosecutor’s Office, Marlon Botas managed to flee while his girlfriend lay dying in a hospital. More than a year after what happened, only his parents are serving a sentence for aiding their son, but Botas is still a fugitive and Bendimes’ crime remains unpunished. This Monday, her former partner sent a message from an undisclosed alleging that he and his parents are innocent.

Bendimes’ murder triggered a wave of indignation in Veracruz, where the feminist groups that have provided support for her family organized marches and actions to seek justice. The capture of Botas’ parents in Mexico City in November of last year set a precedent for aiding and abetting murderers, according to these organizations. And the state of Veracruz was papered with the face of Marlon Botas: graffiti on walls, wanted posters, videos and images on social media. The Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had asked Interpol to issue a red notice (issued for fugitives who are wanted for prosecution or to serve a sentence) in almost 100 countries and offered a reward of 250,000 pesos (about $12,500) for any clue about his whereabouts.

The Bendimes case has since made no more progress, as often happens with most crimes in Mexico, where 95% of them are never solved. This is especially true in cases of sexist violence, compounded by a national security crisis that no government has managed to control and which claims the lives of 11 women a day. Despite the imprisonment of his parents, who had fled to the nation’s capital, Botas has so far gotten away with it.

This Monday, the television network Imagen showed a video that the show’s hosts said reached them anonymously, in which Botas can be seen against a white background. Botas says that what happened was an “unfortunate accident” and that his family had nothing to do with it. He also claimed there was a “hunt” against him and his family, and asked that his parents, Diana Fuentes and Jorge Botas, be released. Reaction on social media was intense. The women of Mexico are accustomed to hearing so many times and in so many cases that dead women committed suicide, fell, got themselves killed.

The Veracruz Prosecutor’s Office, as well as Governor Cuitláhuac García, responded in a statement that the “procurement of justice is not negotiated.” “In this case, as in all those in which a woman is attacked, there will be no impunity,” said the message signed by the State Attorney General, Verónica Hernández. However, more than a year after the death, the main suspect is still at large and the fact he had the audacity to send a message to the authorities reveals the confidence he has that impunity will play in his favor.

Shouting “It was not an accident”, hundreds of social media users have once again shown their outrage at a case that builds on a series of other unsolved murders. The most recent victims are María Fernanda Contreras, 27, Debanhi Escobar, 18 and Yolanda Martínez, 26, about whom the authorities still point to a suicide without having revealed details of how she died.

The Mexican feminist movement has been gaining traction in recent years. Each case of a murdered woman or a victim of sexist violence has triggered protests that were unthinkable just a decade ago.

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Twenty-five ethnic Pamiris killed by security forces in Tajikistan protests | Global development

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At least 25 people were killed on Wednesday by security forces in Tajikistan during a protest in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO), where the Tajik regime has targeted the Pamiri ethnic minority.

The deaths mark an escalation of violence in the region. Conflict between the central government and the Pamiri has continued for decades, with the cultural and linguistic minority ethnic group suffering human rights abuses, as well as discrimination over jobs and housing.

The Pamir region has been the only place in Tajikstan where anti-government protesters still take to the streets, despite the authoritarian pro-Kremlin regime.

According to witnesses, several hundred residents of Khorog, the capital of GBAO, gathered at the weekend to call for the dismissal of the governor and the release of demonstrators arrested for participation in a protest in November, when three men were killed and 17 wounded by security forces.

Protests continued until Wednesday when, as people marched to the main square in Khorog, security forces blocked the road and allegedly started firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas at the protesters, killing at least 25 people.

Map of Tajikistan showing region

The Tajik government claimed “members of an organised criminal group” had blocked the highway “in order to destabilise the social and political situation”.

In a statement on the state news agency, Khovar, the interior ministry said: “Law enforcement agencies have begun an anti-terror operation … in a restive region that borders Afghanistan and China and has long been a flashpoint of tensions.”

The Tajik authorities claimed that arms and support from foreign “terrorist organisations” were coming in to the Pamiri region.

“The organised criminal groups did not comply with the lawful demands of law-enforcement officers to hand over their weapons and ammunition, and put up armed resistance,” the interior ministry said.

But activists said their protests had been peaceful. “The government is branding and naming the peaceful protesters as ‘terrorists’, which is a complete fake, and then using that as an excuse to shoot at them,” said one Pamiri activist who cannot be named for security reasons.

During the Tajikistan civil war from 1992 to 1997, thousands of Pamiris were killed in what some human rights activists have described as “ethnic cleansing”.

In 2012, during clashes seen by many in GBAO as an attempt by the Tajik government to bring the autonomous region under its full control, at least 40 civilians were killed.

In February, parents of men killed by Tajik forces during a protest in November called on the international community to step in and protect ethnic minority groups.

Families have demanded that the soldiers responsible for killing their sons be brought to justice and urged the United Nations to intervene.

Guards in old-fashioned shako hats salute two men as they walk through huge golden doors
Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, right, at Monday’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Photograph: Mikhael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin/EPA

Tajikistan’s president of 28 years, Emomali Rahmon, who met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Monday, is seen by the Pamiri as wanting to take control of Gorno-Badakhshan.

Neil Clarke, head of the legal programme at Minority Rights Group International, told the Guardian: “The deteriorating human rights situation in the region is leaving the population, who are mainly Indigenous peoples and ethnic and linguistic minorities, at serious risk of harm.

“We now believe that without urgent measures, the situation could escalate towards increasing conflict,” he said. “The widespread harassment of the population of GBAO by authorities including the police, security and military personnel appears increasingly systematic. These include wide-ranging forms of surveillance and invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention and the use of coercion to obtain signatures and/or public statements against the will of the individual.”

Since November security checkpoints have been reinforced, and hundreds of people who took part in the demonstrations have been arrested or banned from leaving the region. Clarke said the latest deaths marked renewed efforts to suppress the Pamiri.

“Authorities have reinstated a blockade on internet connection in the region and have again begun to arrest and detain prominent civil society leaders and independent individuals under the alleged pretext of an ‘anti-terror operation’,” he said.

“Pamiri people are not the terrorists. We are calling for urgent measures by Tajikistan authorities to de-escalate the developing conflict, by restoring and ensuring the respect for human rights in GBAO and most urgently call on authorities to release the activist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and others who have been detained and interrogated by security forces, without due process, as part of efforts to silence the voice of Pamiri activists.”

Since crackdowns on opposition groups in 2014 in Tajikistan, it is thought that 15 activists who left the country have disappeared in Russia or Turkey.

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Anne Frank: who gave her up to the Nazis? | International

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A book published in the Netherlands in January has caused a stir with it’s claim that a local Jewish notary was the one who revealed the annex in which Anne Frank and her family were hiding to the Nazis, whosubsequently deported the young girl, her sister, and their parents, to a concentration camp.

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, is authored by Canadian biographer and poet Rosemary Sullivan. The Betrayal recounts the work of a team made led by Dutch journalist Pieter van Twisk and including American Vince Pankoke, a former FBI agent It has been released throughout the world and encountered no problems, except for in the Netherlands where the publisher Ambo Anthos, withdrew it in February, apologizing “to anyone who was offended.”

The group set out to address the fate of Anne Frank as a cold case — an unsolved crime — and have used artificial intelligence and data processing as well as consulting a behavioral psychologist. They considered why a respected Jewish notary might have informed the Nazis of the Frank family’s hideout at 263 Prinsengracht in the Dutch capital. Over six years the team has ruled out about 30 suspects and scores of possibilities, attempting to fill gaps in information as time has elapsed.

Of the Frank family that had been hidden in the annex, only the father, Otto Frank, returned from the death camps. His daughter is a global icon, with her diary and her fate a symbol of innocence in tragedy.

Sullivan’s book says it is “almost certain” that the Dutch Jewish Council had a list of locations where people were in hiding, on which the Frank family’s may have been included.

The book notes that Arnold van den Bergh, a member of the Council, had contacts in high Nazi circles. So, “he could have given that list up at any time.”

To approach a cold case, one begins by reviewing all previous investigations for new clues. Speaking to EL PAÍS by phone, Vince Pankoke says that in this process one might speculate on what happened, and analyze the personality and biography of the suspects.

Pankoke says that, “we are not 100% sure,” the team found that van den Bergh was the most likely person to have triggered the raid in which Nazi police found the Franks.

“Although we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” continues Pankoke, the team felt compelled to share their conclusions, because “it could have been a time bomb if discovered by anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi groups,” adding that the notary would have done so to save himself and his own family.

The speculation in the book has troubled several Dutch historians who specialize in the Holocaust and in the Dutch Jewish Council itself.

Bart van der Boom, a professor at the University of Leiden, says there is no evidence that the Council had the addresses of people in hiding.

Council members were respected people in the Jewish community, who “believed that opposing the Nazis would be much worse” than accepting the creation of the Council, a Nazi initiative.

“The idea that they would give a list to the Nazis is ridiculous,” says van der Boom.

“Jewish leaders did not decide who would be deported and they did not take charge of gathering people for it.” That suggestion, adds the professor, “is one of the numerous errors of the book.”

Van der Boom goes on to say that the Dutch Jewish Council “was criticized by everyone after the war for collaborating with the occupier, and there were Nazis who tried to blame it to save themselves.”

In the book, van der Boom says that the cold case team points to a German translator’s statement that they had heard the Council had the lists, and “that information is not credible.”

Indeed, in the historian’s expert opinion, the book is “an amateur work; all smoke and mirrors.”

Van der Boom has written to Rosemary Sullivan, in an appeal, he says, to her academic conscience. He tells EL PAÍS that Sullivan responded “that she trusts the research.”

Both van der Boom and his colleague, Bart Wallet, Professor of Jewish History at the University of Amsterdam, are particularly appalled at a sentence by the author in the English version.

After stating that van den Berg, who died in 1950, “saved his family by giving the Nazis addresses, including 263 Prinsengracht,” Sullivan writes: “Perhaps he also paid a price. He died of throat cancer. In a strange way, it was appropriate: he lost the ability to speak.”

Wallet states firmly that an academic peer review process would not have permitted the book to be published in its current form.

Pieter van Twisk, the Dutch journalist, admits that the team expected criticism, especially in the Netherlands.

“I was not prepared, however, for the toxic atmosphere [that has been] created,” says van Twisk.

“We were not [deliberately] looking for a Jewish traitor, as has been suggested, and we believe that Otto Frank knew or suspected who ratted them out, because he said he did not want his children to suffer for it.”

“There are specialists who agree with us and do not dare to speak in order to preserve their reputation. It’s ridiculous.”

It also seems to van Twisk that the Dutch publisher Ambo Anthos has dropped the book for fear of a lawsuit by members of the van den Bergh family: “I didn’t want to go to court with victims of the Holocaust.”

Pankoke, for his part, indicates that the book “is Rosemary Sullivan’s interpretation of the interviews she did with us and the reports of our work. There is a difference between what she interprets and the investigation itself.”

At any rate, Pankoke notes, “collaboration with the Nazis and the fate of Anne Frank” is a highly sensitive topic in the Netherlands.

The other main piece of evidence presented in the work is an anonymous note about the betrayal, sent after the war to Otto Frank. The original has not been found, but a copy of the writing, known to academics, was among the documents of a Dutch police investigator, Arend van Helden, who investigated the matter between 1963 and 1964. The note says that Van den Bergh revealed the Franks’ hideout to the Nazis, and that the department that received the tip-off “had a list of addresses (of Jewish people in hiding) also provided by him.”

Forensic examination by Pankoke’s team confirmed that the copy “had come off Otto Frank’s typewriter a couple of years before 1959.”

The team explored whether “the note was taken seriously in its day and if the lead was good.”

After discovering “that due diligence, an adequate review, had not been applied to confirm the allegations,” Pankoke’s team deemed it a legitimate piece of evidence.

For Bart Wallet, the person who wrote it “misquotes the Nazi institutions, showing a lack of inside knowledge to make such a statement about the notary.”

Such notes, Wallet continues, were frequently sent between people after the war “as gossip, or to settle scores.”

In Wallet’s opinion, if the list of hidden Jews had existed, “we would be facing one of the greatest traitors of the war and it would have been known, preventing his return to civilian life.”

To all of the above, there are added doubts about the whereabouts of the notary after the beginning of 1944. Anne Frank and her family were found by the Nazis in August of that year. Pankoke points out that van den Bergh “was trying to go unnoticed or else he hid, because details are missing here.”

However, another Dutch historian has just found a wartime diary with an entry that places the notary in the town of Laren, near Amsterdam. Van den Bergh obtained the necessary documentation to pass himself off as only partly Jewish, and thus had freedom of movement. But a Nazi colleague who wanted his office had gotten that declaration annulled.

Due to this, and with his three daughters hidden since the end of 1943, the two historians consulted believe that van den Bergh and his wife went into hiding at the beginning of 1944, according to reports from his descendants in the 1970s, as the family had survived.

Regarding the response of historians in the Netherlands to the book, Pankoke suspects a case of “academic arrogance.”

“When historians don’t like our findings, they reject them. That the notary went into hiding does not prove that he did not give the lists to the Nazis before, or later.”

“In addition, academics state that he was a good person,” but, “I know from experience that decent people can do terrible things,” the former FBI agent concludes.

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