Greece has been accused of causing an “unprecedented racist scandal” for acquitting local farmers who shot 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers after they asked to be paid.
The attack occurred last April in the village of Manolada, around 160 miles (257km) southwest of Athens and an area heavily populated with migrant Bangladeshi workers.
Two men, including the owner of the farm, fired at the workers after they asked to be reimbursed for the six months of unpaid labour they had undergone in the country mired economic crisis.
Dozens were injured in the attack, including four seriously. Despite admitting shooting the workers, the two men – one of whom was also accused of human trafficking – were cleared by the court in the southern city of Patras.
Two other men, who were found guilty of aggravated assault and illegal use of firearms and sentenced to 14 years and seven months and eight years and seven months, were also cleared of all charges and walked free pending an appeal.
There were scenes of anguish outside the court as migrant workers protested the ruling. One of the victim’s lawyer, Moisis Karabeyidis, said he feels “shame as a Greek” and is considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“This decision is an outrage and a disgrace”, he said. “The court showed an appalling attitude toward the victims.”
Politicians and union groups have also criticised the decision, which has highlighted some of the appalling working conditions some migrant workers are subjected to in the country’s desperate financial situation.
Vassiliki Katrivanou, an MP for the radical-left Syriza party, said the ruling sends a message that migrant workers “can die like a dog in the orchard”.
Greece’s biggest labour union said the decision was “against the public sense of justice and fairness”.
A GSEE spokesperson added: “To shoot and injure people who dared to ask for six months in unpaid wages cannot be described as a mere assault.
“We express our dissatisfaction with the acquittal of a businessman and his associates who are responsible for the mistreatment of 200 workers, mostly from Bangladesh, at the site, who live in squalid conditions and without working rights and who had been left unpaid.”
“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 added.
Anti-racism groups have also announced they will protest against the court’s 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.
“The hundreds of millions of profit made in the strawberry industry cannot come about by shooting labourers in strawberry fields.”