UPDATE at the bottom of the post
Οι Έλληνες αναγνώστες μπορούν να βρουν μια λίστα με ενημερωτικές πηγές για το περιστατικό στο τέλος του άρθρου.
Holy crap on a cracker! (is this considered blasphemous, BTW?) This took me by surprise. I’d heard the rumours, to be sure, but never thought that anything would come of them. What am I talking about? Do you remember this old article of mine?
Take a moment and read it, if you haven’t already. It marks the seminal event that precipitated this whole mess. Go ahead, I can wait…
Pretty amusing, huh? Who would’ve thought that a simple case of internet trolling would bring legal action. Apparently Fudamentalist Christianity in Greece has a low tolerance for “burn”. And now a 27-year-old man has to go through the meandering greek legal system for a non-crime that is likely to result in an acquittal and lots of frayed nerves.
But let’s start from the top.
The “Elder Pastitsios” parody facebook page (registered as “entertainer”) was around for at least a year and even though it sparked the occasional controversy and declarations of outrage from the religious, it never really attracted much attention outside the irreligious community. This would change in July 2012.
The troll-o-miracle incident, described in the aforementioned link, was initiated some time in mid July and quickly spread like a wildfire (reaching more than 75,000 google hits in late July). It soon reached the ears of the christian websites that had rushed to promote this fake miracle as true (that is, almost all of them) and the level of burn went through the roof, as they started to realize that they had been played for fools. Admittedly it is embarrassingly horrible not only for the websites, but for several thousand people, to realize that, not only had they been trolled, but had eagerly participated in propagating the troll-o-miracle and scamming others. Apparently no one was offended that the various websites had been propagating a piece of news that no one had bothered to fact-check.
The outrage kept building throughout August and much of September, with a campaign aimed at having the account suspended through Facebook’s report system (the campaign was apparently successful, as the account vanished last week). When the “Golden Dawn” nationalist party got wind of the incident and had a member of its parliamentary group, p.m. Christos Pappas, submit a question in Parliament. The question was submitted on September 19th, 2012 and was directed at the Minister of Education & Religion, Culture & Sports and the Minister of Order and Protection of the Citizen. The ministers were basically asked if they were aware that…
On the website at http://www.facebook.com/gerontas.pastitsios a profile has been created, named “ΓΕΡΟΝΤΑΣ ΠΑΣΤΙΤΣΙΟΣ/ELDER PASTITSIOS”, where the user swears, mocks and attempts to humiliate the holy persona of Hellenic Orthodoxy, Elder Paisios. Mentioned indicatively are posts such as “Elder Pastitsios the Pastafarian”, “the new troll-o-miracle of the Elder in Serres” and several provocative and inappropriate photographs.
…and whether they would…
[…]set in motion the necessary actions through the CyberCrime unit towards the immediate removal of the specific profile from the internet? Or are they going to keep turning a deaf ear and tolerate this disgraceful mockery of Elder Paisios […]
It is unknown whether the government caved to the pressure brought to bear by Golden Dawn and the fundamentalist christian groups, or happened to agree with their ideas as well, but the fact remains that last Friday (21/9), within 3 days of the question in Parliament, Elder Pastitsios was arrested, after his home was searched by the police.
The Police Report
The CyberCrime Unit’s press release states the following. I have translated it myself, since Google Translate really garbles it and I’ve seen several foreign website relying on it.
HELLENIC POLICE HEADQUARTERS
Athens, September 24th, 2012
The CyberCrime Unit arrested a 27-year-old Greek national for malintentional blasphemy and revilement of religions through Facebook.
The 27-year-old maintained a page on Facebook with blasphemous and insulting content about Elder Paisios and Orthodox Christianity.
The CyberCrime Unit filed charges using the “in flagrante delicto” process against a 27-year-old Greek national, who is charged with malintentional blasphemy and revilement of religions, using the well-known social networking website “Facebook”.
To be precise, the CyberCrime Unit recently located on the well-known social networking website “Facebook”, a page (www.facebook.com/ gerontas. pastitsios) which contained blasphemies and insults against Elder Paisios and Orthodox Christianity.
Along with the insulting and blasphemous content of the specific page, CyberCrime also received thousands of electronic reports, coming from thousands of people from all over the world.
During the digital police investigation, which was conducted during the preliminary examination, the logfiles and electronic traces of the administrator-user of the aforementioned page were found.
Then, in the morning of Friday (21.09.2012), a detail of specialized CyberCrime officers conducted a legal search, in the presence of a representative of the District Attorney’s Office, of the 27-year-old’s residence, in the town of Psachna, in Euboea.
During the search, a laptop was found and confiscated. An in situ search of this computer revealed that the administrator of the website was indeed the 27-year-old, who was subsequently arrested, charges were filed against him and he was taken to the First Level Court District Attorney’s Office.
Several people have called attention to the fact that the arrest was made on a Friday; a typical demoralizing technique utilized by the police, since this means that the accused will have to spend the entire weekend in jail, before he can appear before a court on Monday. Thankfully it appears that he was released on Saturday and appeared in court today.
It also appears that CyberCrime acted on its own, without the intervention of the D.A.
The arrest was made possible on the basis of the following “antiquated” articles of the Greek Penal Code. And placed “antiquated” in ironic quote-marks, because not only are they still being used to attack dissent from the hellenic religious status quo (such as the “Corpus Christi” arrests last June), but also because these articles were updated recently, increasing the jail time from 5 months to the current 2 years.
THREATS AGAINST THE RELIGIOUS PEACE
1. Anyone who publicly and with malintent swears against God in any way is punished with up to 2 years in prison.
2. Anyone, except as described in par.1, who displays publicly with blasphemy a lack of respect for things divine, is punished with up to 3 months in prison.Article 199
Swearing against Religions
Anyone who publicly and with malintent swears against the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ or any other religion tolerated in Greece, in any way, is punished with up to 2 years in prison.
It is really doubtful that the police can make any of their charges stick. Anyone familiar with the parody site know that the user was making fun of the trend that treats any supposed saying by the actual monk as prophecy and holy writ. The site did not really blaspheme against God nor the Church and its parody was centered solely on Elder Paisios, who was just a private person; he has not been canonized and cannot be assumed to be protected under the provisions of these articles. The only real law that could be used is a law against insulting the memory of a deceased (but in this case, a charge has to be filed by a concerned family member and not by the D.A.)
Also note that blasphemy in Greece is considered a misdemeanor, but it still carries a rather steep prison sentence.
E-lawyer, a Greek lawyer with a blog dealing with human rights violations is also concerned that there may have been a violation of the Hellenic Constitution, that allows privacy on the internet to be waived only for serious crimes (and blasphemy sure ain’t one). The whole case rests on the opinion of the Supreme Court D.A. who in 2009 ruled that “there is no privacy for publications”, which is apparently wrong since it’s one thing to publish something on the net and another thing to desire your anonymity (as is the case with the use of a pseudonym). E-lawyer also wonders how the police got a hold of any information, since Facebook has consistently denied releasing any information on the identity of its users without a US court order.
And let’s not forget that the blasphemy laws are in violation of the “Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union” which Greece has signed.
But this is all beside the point.
There is the very real possibility that this is just a campaign to intimidate others of similar bent into silence and self-censorship. As Greece makes an ever increasingly conservative turn (given the current financial crisis), one can hear all the more often the old military junta mottos “Greece of Orthodox Greeks” and “Homeland, Religion, Family”. Some had already started warning that the “Pussy Riot” incident might have whetted the Greek theocrats appetites for suppression of dissent; apparently their fears were justified. Admittedly, greek society was never characterized by its progressiveness, but this is getting out of hand.
Some have also put forward the conspiratorial opinion that the arrest was an attempt to disorient the greek internet sphere from the universal strike that is to take place on Wednesday, tomorrow (possible, but unlikely IMHO).
What I personally find a lot more interesting is that this arrest basically coincided with the turmoil in the muslim world over that ridiculous video about Mohammad. And while the western governments stand resolute behind the Right of Free Speech, it appears that Greece has decided to side with the theocrats in opposition to it (to be honest, as a society we were never too progressive on such matters, anyway; so it doesn’t quite come as a surprise).
A petition has already been set up on this page demanding his acquittal. Feel free to contribute and sign it.
Whether this incident acts as a catalyst for the final abolition of the greek blasphemy laws or remains another point of friction on the emerging greek equivalent of the Culture War, remains to be seen.
Response on Facebook and Twitter
In the mean time, since the original facebook page’s removal, several people have created copycat accounts of a similarly satirical bent. So, along with Elder Pastitsios (from the greek delicacy) we have recently seen:
- A copy of the original page
- Elder Parisios the city-planner (based on the city of Paris; seems to have been suspended or deleted)
- Elder Myprecious (based on the Golum)
- Elder Chasisios (based on the hashish drug)
- Elder Poustitsios (based on a greek vulgar word for “gay”; meh…I could live without this one…)
Other pageless incarnations include:
- Elder Popeyesios (based on Popeye the sailor) and
- Elder Kyparissios (based on the cypress tree)
All such profiles quickly rise to several hundred likes, as people become aware of them. Note that the original account had more than 6,000 likes; a number that started climbing as soon as the campaign to silence the account had started. By all accounts the campaign brought an extra 1,500 likes to the page.
The hellenic tweetiverse also burst out in outrage as soon as the arrest was made public. The most widely used hashtag on the incident is #FreeGeronPastitsios (made even more famous by Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers). Here’s a potpourri of tweets on the incident:
- In #Elladistan trolling on facebook gets you arrested; stabbing immigrants gets into the parliament.
- The fact that we’re turning into Iran pains me more than the fact that we’re being ruined financially.
- The more they build prisons and the more they close on us, our mind is like béchamel and it keeps escaping.
- At least the Taliban have the excuse that they never lived through the Enlightenment… the Orthodox are obscurantists by choice.
- You go to sleep in Athens and wake up in Islamabad.
- Let’s show those backwards Muslims how to do things properly.
- If you’ve got the @@ try buying bucatini and minced meat at the supermarket.
- #FreeGeronPastitsios managed the impossible; making the liberals join forces with the leftists.
- Is there still someone who believes that we belong to the West?
- Some ministers should read Obama’s address at the UN.
- Those who swallow the whole camel can’t digest a piece of pastitsio.
- If you thought Greece was fucked up only in the area of finances, you would be very very wrong.
- What time is the stoning at Syntagma Square?
- When people were asking that we return to a time before the financial crisis, I didn’t imagine they meant the dark ages.
- I want to live in a country with freedom of expression.
Elder Pastitsios has been identified with the initials “F.L.” and at 11.30 EET today (25.09.2012) his trial was postponed indefinitely (there’s a good chance it will resume at some point in 2013). Due to the slow and lacking in resources court system, this postponement is typical and foreign readers should not make any assumptions about its meaning. A large crowd also gathered outside the courthouse today to support the accused, along with several Parliament Members of the left party SYRIZA, who have recently attempted to have the blasphemy laws abolished, after the “Corpus Christi” incident.
The Atheist Union of Greece has also thrown its full support (moral, legal and financial) behind Elder Pastitsios and is already discussing possible actions, in tandem with the Humanist Union of Greece. At the bottom of this press release you can find a bank account number for the financial support of F.L. in what can be a costly legal battle. A meeting has also been set up later today to discuss possible actions.
Surprisingly, the generally conservative Metropolitan of Thessalonica, Anthimos, stated his disagreement with the Pastitsios’ arrest, saying that “no one owns the faith” (I assume he means that no single person owns the faith so he is entitled to press charges to protect it). While I cannot be sure of his sincerity, I’m intrigued to see if he would support the abolition of the blasphemy provisions of the penal code. In any case, the man knows bad press when he sees it and this is clearly is quintessential bad press.
I’ll make sure to keep you informed on how this plays out with updates.
Elder Pastitsios was interviewed by Kostas Vaxevanis for the “Pandora’s Box” tv show. You can view the video here (but it’s in Greek). Some interesting things that came up:
- The D.A. dropped the blasphemy charge, but kept the swearing against religion charge.
- The CyberCrime Unit told him that Facebook released his info and does so regularly (Google as well)
- The Elder states that while the experience was troubling for both him and his family, he feels it will have been worthwhile, if in the end it brings about the abolition of the blasphemy legislation.
- He also makes clear that the target was mainly the whole circus that has been set up around the figure of Paisios and the exploitation of his name for merchandising.
- He considers that the general Greek society is not ready to respect satire on such subjects and says that he will stop for the time being (he thinks his facebook page fulfilled its purpose).
- The Police told him that they received around 100,000 e-mails, some threatening even the Police themselves with threats like “we’ll kill you, if you don’t find him”.
Yesterday evening the Atheist Union of Greece organized a happening at the center of Athens. First people assembled in front of the Parliament with banners trying to raise awareness on the issue. Then they moved the gathering to the nearby Exarchia district where they performed a mock religious ceremony to honour the memory of the martyr Elder Pastitsios of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (you can watch it in this video).
ARTICLES on the subject in English
● Digital Journal: Greek man arrested for blaspheming a monk on Facebook
● Heavy: Greece Arrests Pastafarian for Blasphemy after he Mocked a Monk on Facebook
● International Business Times: Greece: Golden Dawn ‘Force’ Arrest
over Monk Elder Paisios Facebook Page Blasphemy
● orgismenosboudas: Free the Troll!!
● Pharyngula: #FreeGeronPastitsios
● Sky News: Man arrested for online religious taunts
ΑΝΑΓΝΩΣΜΑΤΑ για τους Έλληνες Αναγνώστες (Articles in Greek)
● Ανορθόδοξος: Ο Παστίτσιος, ο Μουχαμέτης και η βλακεία που μας δέρνει…
● Διαγόρας ο Μήλιος: Συνελήφθη ο «Γέροντας Παστίτσιος» του facebook
● Επικούρεια: Τα όρια της σάτιρας σε ένα … παστίτσιο…
● Κώστας Βαξεβάνης: Ο Άγιος Παστίτσιος βοήθειά μας
● Ροΐδης: Προς την Αγιοτάτην Σύνοδον (Θέ μου σχώρα με)
● Σαραντάκος: Τι παστίτσιο είναι αυτό;
● Το Βήμα: Οταν ο «Παστίτσιος» ξεγελούσε τους «πλασιέ» της λατρείας του Παΐσιου
● 50ft Queenie: Παστιτσάδα (#FreeGeronPastitsios)
● E-Lawyer: Σύλληψη κατόχου σατιρικής σελίδας στο facebook
● Left.gr: Συγκέντρωση αλληλεγγύης για τη σύλληψη του… Γέροντα Παστίτσιου
● Peslac: Τρία υλικά για ένα καλό… παστίτσιο
● Schrodinger’s Dragon: Δημοκρατία των Απόντων: Η Διακήρυξη