A court in Greece has acquitted a pair of local farmers who admitted shooting at a group of Bangladeshi agricultural workers who had demanded months of back pay.
The decision by judges in the western city of Patras caused widespread outrage in the country with politicians, trade union officials and anti-racism campaigners condemning the verdict as an “historic injustice”.
Protesters gathered outside the court as the two main accused, including the owner of the strawberry farm where the workers were shot, walked free from court whilst two others were handed prison sentences of 14 and 8 years each for aggravated assault and illegal firearms possession.
Some 30 workers were injured – four of them critically – at the farm in the town of Manolada in the southern Peloponnese region after more than 200 fruit pickers had gathered outside a supervisor’s hut in April last year to demand they be paid more than six months of unpaid wages.
The subsequent trial heard of the “inhumane” conditions the workers were kept in at the farm including cramped and unhygienic accommodation and a lack of basic sanitation facilities.
One lawyer representing the victims said after the verdict: “I feel shame as a Greek. This decision is an outrage and a disgrace … the court showed an appalling attitude toward the victims.”
Politicians who took up the cause also weighed in on Wednesday saying the verdict sent set an unwelcome example.
“It sends the message that a foreign worker can die like a dog in the orchard,” said Vassiliki Katrivanou, an MP with the leftist opposition Syriza party.
She added that in a nation where fruit-farm labourers are frequently from overseas, the attack in Manolada was far from being an isolated incident.
“It leaves room for new victims by closing eyes to the brutal, inhuman and racist character of the exploitation suffered by workers on the land,” she said, pointing out that the ruling had been made on World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
Denouncing the judgment as scandalous, anti-racism organisations said it raised questions about the impartiality of the Greek justice system and vowed to step up protest action against the decision.
“We call upon unions and human rights movements to react against this unprecedented racist scandal,” said Petros Constantinou, coordinator of the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat in a statement.
“The hundreds of millions of profit made in the strawberry industry cannot come about by shooting labourers in strawberry fields.”