ATHENS – Pro-Tibetan demonstrators protesting China’s policies who hung a banner on a scaffolding on the Acropolis were cleared by a Greek court of charges they were attempting to “pollute, damage and distort” the famed site.
The British newspaper The Guardian said the verdict was made by a three-member tribunal only minutes after a prosecutor urged a guilty verdict in a case closely watched by human rights groups.
“This is a huge victory for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest in Europe,” said Michael Polak, a lawyer for the legal aid group Justice Abroad who had flown in from London for the hearing. “It is also a huge win for the Tibetan and Hong Kong people,” he added.
“The acquittals … will send a strong message that legitimate peaceful protests and assembly, of the type banned totally in China and Hong Kong, will be allowed even when it hurts the fragile sensibilities of the Beijing and Hong Kong regimes,” he said.
The two student activists, a Tibetan American and Hong Kongese American, had faced up to five years in prison if convicted of a charge viewed as a serious crime under Greek law.
The pair were arrested on Oct. 17, 2021 while chanting “Boycott Beijing 2022” in reference to the winter Olympics and tried to hang a Tibetan flag and banner in support of freedom in Hong Kong.
The following day, three other activists, including a Briton, were detained and held in police custody after briefly disrupting the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in protest against China holding the Games.
They faced the same charges after waving a Tibetan flag in front of Chinese officials attending the celebration in ancient Olympia and their trial is due to begin Dec. 1 after it was postponed in February, activists saying it was done to avoid embarrassing China, where Greece is trying to lure investors.
In both incidents, the activists said they were protesting the Olympic symbols being used as propaganda and a crackdown on freedom of expression in Hong Kong on orders of the Chinese government.
claimed they were protesting against the usurpation of Olympic symbols for During the hearing, the country’s leading human rights lawyer, Alexis Anagnostakis, defended the pair, arguing that similar protests at the Acropolis and other historic sites in Europe had never before been prosecuted under “the unfounded charge” of attempting to destroy a monument.
“It was a good day for human rights defenders around the world,” he told the Guardian. “In a highly politically sensitive case, it is justice and the rule of law that, in the end, have prevailed.”