April 20, 2015 / 6:19 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. fears new Greek law may ease guerrilla's jail terms

ATHENS (Reuters) - The United States expressed concern on Monday over a government-backed bill that paves the way for a member of Greece’s most lethal guerrilla group to be released from jail.

Meeting with his Greek counterpart in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said those who committed acts of terrorism should remain behind bars.

“Our efforts on counterterrorism could not be more important together in the future,” Kerry said in remarks with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias at the State Department.

“Obviously, we’re very concerned that those who have committed acts of terrorism who’ve been incarcerated need to remain incarcerated.”

Kotzias assured Kerry that was not the case.

“We can be sure that the new law in Greece about the prisoners will not let any terrorists become free,” he said. “Nobody will become free.”

Hours before parliament formally approved the changes, aimed at reducing overcrowding and improving conditions at Greek prisons, U.S. Ambassador to Greece David Pearce said the law would dishonor the memory of Greek, U.S. and British diplomats killed in attacks.

The law allows severely disabled inmates - including Savvas Xiros, who is serving multiple life terms for his role in the defunct group November 17 - to be placed under house arrest.

The legislation was put forward by the newly elected government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Xiros, 53, was severely injured in 2002 during a failed bomb attack that led to his arrest, and suffers from multiple sclerosis.

“If Savvas Xiros, or anyone else with the blood of American diplomats and U.S. Mission members on their hands, leaves prison, it will be seen as a profoundly unfriendly act,” Pearce said.

“I want to be clear. The issue is not prison reform, or alleviating overcrowding, or providing access to medical care, or improving humanitarian conditions. The issue is that convicted terrorists and murderers ... should serve their full sentences in prison, not in the comfort of their homes.”

U.S. Ambassador to Greece David Pearce arrives at the Finance Ministry to meet with Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in Athens February 6, 2015. REUTERS/Kostas Tsironis

The bill also abolishes high security prisons and decriminalizes wearing a hood during protests.

A Greek official said the new law was not aimed at releasing Xiros, but like other detainees, he met the criteria for house arrest wearing a monitor bracelet.

The official also said Kerry expressed his concerns in a telephone call with Tsipras, who said the biggest risk for Europe came from the “terrorism of the jihadists” and called for cooperation.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou in Athens, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington. Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Andre Grenon

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