By Constantinos Psillides
LAWYER and civil activist Michalis Paraskeva, 38, appeared in court yesterday for the first hearing over his refusal to pay social insurance contributions for the past nine months.
Paraskeva’s refusal to pay the dues was highly publicised since he considers it an act of civil disobedience, in response to what he claims is a plan by the government to write-off a €7.2bn debt to the Social Insurance Fund (SIF).
The massive debt to the SIF is the result of years of governments borrowing from the fund to plug holes in public finances. The troika of lenders requested in 2012 for that debt to be written off, although the state has yet to do so.
In earlier interviews to the press, Paraskeva argued that by doing so the state would trigger the collapse of the SIF. He maintains that the banks and the state are in fault of the financial meltdown and considers taking money off the SIF as an attack on the people.
Paraskeva was not alone in court, as around 60 people who support his cause gathered outside the courtroom.
A government source told the Cyprus Mail that the case is far more complicated than it looks. “The troika didn’t even consider the debt to the SIF as part of our national debt. For them it was logistical anomaly that needed to be rectified,” said the source, explaining that the government was never going to pay the money back anyway.
“There is probably not a single state in the world that puts all social insurance contributions in a fund and just leaves it there. The money is always used for something else. If the state couldn’t get the money from the SIF then it would have to raise taxes or come up with some other means of acquiring the necessary funds,” said the source, adding that the state will always be there to provide people with social security benefits.
The government source pointed out that writing the debt off or not is inconsequential, since the state was never going to pay the money back anyway.
If found guilty, Paraskeva could face jail time and probably disbarment.
The young lawyer was fully aware of the consequences of his action. In a text message he sent to friends on Thursday, he wrote: “The time of the trial has come. There is no such thing as safe civil disobedience. Jail time is a very probable outcome. Your presence outside the court is much more important than you realise.”
In an interview with daily Simerini, Paraskeva said that he is ready to face any outcome. “Being a lawyer I risk very much since I might face disciplinary action for both not complying with court orders and my obligations towards the state. But I’m going to see this through anyway, for the greater good. A mass civil protest is what’s needed now because there’s is no point in only one person standing up,” he said.
Paraskeva is no stranger to controversy and legal battles against the state. As a lawyer, he specialises in cases of ill-treated immigrants and clashed on numerous occasions with former Immigration head Annie Shiakalli.
Paraskeva is also active on social media. He regularly tweets from his account @osr55 (osr – only solution revolution) and he also writes on his blog osr55.wordpress.com.
A self proclaimed “libertarian socialist”, Paraskeva told the Cyprus Mail in October 2013 that he believes in fighting the system from within, instead of going to marches and throwing Molotov cocktails at police.
The lawyer had said then that he vehemently refuses to compromise. “If you want to be a slave, and a worm, and to crawl, then go ahead and do it, my friend – but I don’t accept that. OK? I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, and let them do what they want to me.”
The court adjourned for February 2, 2015.