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Third probe in ongoing prison debacle (Updated)

The central prison in Nicosia

The Nicosia prison debacle shows no signs of abating after the police on Monday confirmed that they are now investigating the director and her assistant for leaking classified information.

Central prisons director Anna Aristotelous and the unit’s senior officer Athina Demetriou are now facing criminal investigations for leaking “classified information” which concerned the justice ministry. The document in question detailed that ministry would seek to monitor – and not block – phone use from the prisons.

“There were two complaints on July 15 centred on a document which was published on July 13 in the local press,” police spokesman Christos Andreou told the Cyprus News Agency.

He added that based on those complaints the police are now investigating a criminal case related to the laws on leaking classified information and protecting personal data.

In return, just hours later, the lawyers of the two women issued a statement on their behalf stating that: “Whomever dares report on the interference and corruption of a member and high-ranking officer of the police will be devoured by the system.”

The prisons row exploded to the fore in mid-June when Aristotelous alleged that a senior police officer – later reported to be the head of the drugs squad, Ykan – was colluding with an inmate to secure damaging footage of her and her assistant.

The police investigation into the two women now raises the total prisons investigations to three – the two others having been directed by the attorney general (AG).

But daily Politis, which reported on the surveillance of mobile phones document and was later picked up by other outlets, issued a hard-hitting comeback on Monday – stating that the document was not classified. It further argued that the authorities appear to be carrying out an organised effort to get rid of Aristotelous and Demetriou.

Their report in mid-July stated that the justice ministry is pursuing a different upgrade to the existing phone-jamming software – one that enables the surveillance of cell phone activity within the prisons instead of enhancing its blocking capabilities.

Instead of making it harder to control cell phone usage, the ministry seems to prefer keeping things as they are but introduce surveillance as a way of keeping an eye on things.

For its part, Politis argued that other outlets had previously reported on the issue and included correspondence between the justice minister and Aristotelous.

The two women’s lawyers made similar claims – stating that the document was an unclassified correspondence with the company handling the phone monitoring system at the prisons. They added that Phileleftheros had previously reported on the issue.

Politis also sought to emphasise that the justice ministry’s plan for surveillance would likely impact law abiding citizens as well, not just the inmates. Lawyers, journalists and others near and in the prisons would also have their phone usage monitored, the paper argued.

The lawyers made similar claims, namely that the scope of the planned surveillance is clearly illegal and unconstitutional.

The first of the other two investigations is centred on allegations made by Aristotelous that a senior police officer was colluding with an inmate to secure damaging footage of her.

The other is that illegalities were occurring within the prisons under her watch, namely phone and drug use by inmates.

The second case was deemed necessary after the courts found that a man behind bars – serving life sentences for murder – was the ringleader of two attempted murder attacks, having used a mobile phone while in prison to organise crime.

The attorney-general’s office also cited “recent reports” as a contributing factor to that second investigation, after Sigma aired footage allegedly showing drug use in the prisons. The lawyers of Aristotelous and Demetriou claimed that the footage contained material submitted by them during their complaint – leading the lawyers to question why an investigation was not opened into that alleged leak, too.

However – following the announcement that the AG’s office is to investigate illegalities at the prison, both Aristotelous and Demetriou last week requested to be removed from the prisons, arguing that they are being targeted for having reported a senior officer.

 

 

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