Greece Threatens Legalized Murder
ON August 8, 1966, twenty-two-year-old Christos Kazanis was sentenced to death by a military court in Athens, Greece. Was he a vile criminal, perhaps a murderer? No, his “crime” in the eyes of the Greek government was that, because of strong religious convictions, he refused to bear arms. This sentence came after Kazanis had already served a two-year prison term for conscientious objection!
This is not the first time that a Greek court has sentenced to death one of Jehovah’s witnesses because of conscientious objection to military service. About six months before, another death sentence had been passed, on George Roussopoulos. However, after a review of the trial, his sentence was commuted to seven years’ imprisonment, which he is now serving.
Many individuals, organizations and government officials throughout the world were shocked by the Greek action. It is truly appalling for a country that claims to be the “cradle of democracy” to threaten what amounts to the legalized murder of its own peaceful citizens!
Even more reprehensible are the religious leaders of the Orthodox Church in Greece. They have been the prime instigators in using the government to try to crush Jehovah’s witnesses. This was made clear when Greece’s Orthodox primate, Archbishop Chrysostomos, was questioned about the death sentence for Kazanis. The archbishop said: “The Greek Orthodox Church regards the members of this heresy as enemy No. 1.” Showing how the Greek Orthodox Church has attempted to use the State as its tool, the archbishop stated: “We have repeatedly appealed to the authorities to intervene and prosecute or arrest those of them who engage in proselytism.”
An example of this was in 1963 when, as the New York Times of August 17, 1966, declared: “The Greek Government, under strong pressure from [the Greek] Orthodox organization, revoked its permission for an international convention of Jehovah’s witnesses in Athens ten days before it was due to begin.” Fifteen hundred delegates were already in Athens or on their way at the time.
As to the death sentence of Kazanis, Archbishop Chrysostomos said: “The church does not wish to interfere with the decision of the state, that is, military justice.” He considers it “justice” for the Greek government to murder a man because he puts first in his life obedience to the law of God!
Who was it that used the secular government to persecute others in the first century of our Common Era? Did Jesus Christ or his disciples? Not at all! The religious clergy who were enemies of Jesus were the ones who used the Roman government to persecute Jesus and the early Christians! When the Roman governor asked what he should do with Jesus, it was the fanatical priests who shouted: “Let him be impaled!”—Matt. 27:20-23.
How like the leaders of the Orthodox Church in Greece today! They, like the religious hypocrites in Jesus’ day, want to murder innocent ones who conscientiously strive to do the will of God. And to do their dirty work, these Greek clergymen, like those in Jesus’ day, use the State.
But do not think that this goes unnoticed by the Almighty God of the universe. At his set time he will call to account those who persecute innocent ones. Bible prophecy declares for a certainty, just as though it had already happened, that God “has avenged the blood of his slaves.” (Rev. 19:2) This avenging will come soon at the end of this system of things when God destroys religious systems that persecute his servants.—Rev. 18:8.
As a result of indignation over the death sentence, several members of the British Parliament sent telegrams of protest to the King of Greece, and some organizations have demonstrated against Greek embassies in different parts of the world. In the Netherlands stones were even thrown through Greek embassy windows. But Jehovah’s witnesses did not participate in this violence, nor did they participate in protest marches staged in New York and elsewhere.
However, Jehovah’s witnesses have been slandered by the Greek press in this matter too. A headline in the Athens newspaper Eleftheros Kosmos (Free World) proclaimed: “Jehovah’s Witnesses Stone Our Consulate in Amsterdam.” Yet, the article that followed stated: “Last night the windows of the local Greek Consulate were stoned by unknown persons.” The paper admits that the persons were unknown at that time. But the prejudiced editor headlined the article with the assertion that it was Jehovah’s witnesses who stoned the embassy! Police authorities in Amsterdam, however, state emphatically that it was not Jehovah’s witnesses, but a group known as “The Provos” who picketed and stoned the embassy.
The sentencing to death of Kazanis has further damaged the reputation of the Greek government. An editorial in England in the Manchester Guardian of August 16 showed this when it stated: “The Greeks, not for the first time, have sentenced a conscientious objector to death . . . this harsh sentence, decided on by a military court of one of our NATO allies, is shocking. We are allied with Greece in common defence against external attack and in order to preserve the ideals of liberty and freedom that were reputedly enshrined in the customs of ancient Athens but sometimes seem to be rather lacking in the Greece of today. If the Greek Government and the military authorities are so insensible to the demands of conscience that they can countenance such a dire sentence, there is no doubt that Greece, like Portugal, will find herself rejected by humanitarian opinion and isolated within the Western alliance. The sentence, like the last one, may be commuted to . . . imprisonment. But this, though less harsh, is no advertisement for a free society.”
On August 30 the case was reviewed by a Greek military court and the sentence was commuted to four and a half years in prison. What does this mean? Not merely years in prison, but that on his release Kazanis will be faced with the same ordeal all over again! Is there something you can do about it? Yes, indeed.
You can write a letter of protest to any of the following Greek government officials: King Constantine, Royal Palace, Athens, Greece; Premier Stefanos Stefanopoulos, Athens, Greece; and also the Greek ambassador or consul in your country. We encourage you to do this now. In this way you can add your voice of protest against the Greek government’s continuing threat to carry out legalized murder of innocent Christians.