On Tuesday a man was sentenced to 45 days in prison because he had violated the curfew on March 25. He was caught in Dherynia just after 9pm on the way to visiting his girlfriend and was charged with violating the curfew decree. A lawyer contacted by this paper also pointed out that the man may have been sentenced under one decree on quarantine while having been charged on an earlier one that carried lighter sentences.
The issue here of course is the harshness of the sentence, because even if the man was sentenced on a lawful charge the custodial sentence, even it was in line with the law, would still be excessive. This was a man with a clean record, who had acted foolishly and irresponsibly, but was not a threat to anyone. He violated the decree and should have been punished but why was he not just fined the €300? Why had judge decided that this was not an adequate punishment?
There was not even a need to make an example of him in order to frighten others thinking about violating the night-time curfew, because all restrictions on movement are due to be lifted a little over week after the man was jailed. It was also absurd at a time when people serving time for much more serious offences than breaking a curfew, were being released from prison to reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the overcrowded prisons, and yet the judge thought he should imprison someone over a minor offence.
Admittedly the judge did not think it was a minor offence, as was made clear in the ruling. “All offences that violate the laws relating to public health are very serious, but in the case in question, under the circumstances, become especially serious,” said the judge in justifying “the imposition of strict and deterring sentences.” The judge should have given a little thought to the fact that people’s rights were being violated by the restrictions on movement in any case and shown more leniency.
Imposing a prison sentence is what we would expect a police state, which never shows respect for human rights, to do. In Cyprus our rights are respected by the state, and even if respect for the right to free movement was suspended because of the coronavirus, it does not justify throwing a person in prison for exercising a right that is safeguarded by the constitution.
We would have thought judges would be aware of this instead of zealously embracing the coronavirus-inspired authoritarianism.