Greek prison hospital inmates on hunger strike, refuse drugs to protest overcrowding

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By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Inmates of Greece's only prison hospital said Monday they were on hunger strike and were refusing medication to protest severely overcrowded conditions they say are leading to the spread of disease.

Korydallos prison hospital, west of Athens, is designed to hold 60 men but currently houses more than 200, according to prison staff and inmates. Most are HIV positive. Others have cancer, kidney failure and heart problems and are held in close quarters with those suffering from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and scabies.

Three inmates at the hospital told the AP by phone that 178 prisoners began refusing prison food and medication on Feb. 16, after two cases of tuberculosis were identified among inmates who had not been isolated from other patients.

They said 150-160 of the protesters began a full-blown hunger strike Sunday, while those too severely ill to participate were eating only bread. The protesters were also refusing medication, including antiretroviral and cancer drugs.

The inmates asked that their names not be used since they were not permitted to speak to the media. They said a Justice Ministry response under which certain ailing inmates would be released early under strict conditions was not enough and would only lead to the release of about 30 patients.

Protesters posted photos on social media showing inmates sleeping on double bunks packed tightly together and on mattresses on the floor. One ailing man lies on a bunk, a drip in his arm fixed to a mop handle due to lack of equipment. The posters said the photos were taken within the last week.

The head of the prison guards' union, Spiros Karakitsos, said they accurately depicted current conditions.

"It's a shocking situation," Karakitsos told AP.

The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, tweeted he was "worried at reports of degrading conditions of prisoners" at Korydallos hospital and that a quick resolution was necessary.

Chronically overcrowded, Greek prisons have suffered an increase in inmate numbers and decrease in staff and funding over the past few years, exacerbated by the country's severe financial crisis. Korydallos hospital has seen a dramatic increase in HIV positive inmates, who are held there even if they are not sick.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled several times that conditions in Greek prisons and police holding cells constitute inhuman or degrading punishment.

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