ATHENS — A court in southern Greece has convicted two employees at a strawberry farm for shooting and wounding 28 migrant workers protesting unpaid wages, but the farm’s owner and head foreman were cleared.
The shotgun attack occurred last year in Manolada, 260 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of Athens, where mostly Bangladeshi migrants work, and drew international attention to the often appalling conditions facing migrant laborers at Greek farms.
The court in the city of Patras sentenced one man to 14 years and seven months in prison and the other to eight years and seven months.
Both were convicted of aggravated assault and illegal use of firearms, and both were freed pending their appeal. They can pay a fine of 5 euros per day for their sentences to avoid going to jail, a common practice in Greece.
The ruling by a panel of seven judges was unanimous and as such cannot be appealed by the victims, a judicial source told Agence France Presse.
The victims now plan to take their case to European courts. Lawyer Moisis Karabeidis said the decision was “shameful” and and would embolden Greek employers to mistreat their migrant labourers in future.
“This is an inhuman, shameful decision… I am ashamed to be Greek,” Karabeidis told reporters, as dozens of migrants and their supporters staged a protest outside the courtroom. “You can imagine what kind of (working) conditions will prevail in the area from now on,” he said.
The three foremen, two of whom are brothers, were accused of firing at a crowd of 200 strawberry pickers gathered to demand back pay which in some cases stretched to six months.
Around 30 mainly Bangladeshi migrants were wounded, some of them seriously, in the incident in April last year in the village of Manolada in the west of the peninsula, one of Greeces main strawberry growing areas.
The foremen said they acted in self-defence after the crowd turned hostile. They claim they were firing at the ground and that the bullets bounced onto the victims, hitting them.
The government condemned the shooting but unions noted that the incident was only the latest in a long history of abuse of migrant workers in Greece, AFP said.
In 2008, Manolada was the focal point of a rare strike by hundreds of migrant workers against near-slavery conditions in the fields.
Hundreds of seasonal workers, most of them foreign, are employed in local farms for meagre wages, living in shacks and forced to pay rent to their employers.
They work in greenhouses in temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for a salary of around 22 euros ($30) a day.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)