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Inmates of Greece’s only prison hospital announced on Monday that they were on hunger strike and had refused medication to protest against severe overcrowding leading to the spread of disease.
Korydallos prison hospital is designed to hold 60 men but currently houses more than 200, most of whom are HIV positive.
Others have cancer, kidney failure and heart problems and are held in close quarters with those suffering from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and scabies.
Inmates told reporters that 178 prisoners began refusing prison food and medication on February 16 after seeing two cases of tuberculosis among inmates who had not been isolated from other patients.
They said around 155 protesters began a full-blown hunger strike on Sunday, while those too severely ill to participate were eating only bread. The protesters were also refusing medication, including antiretroviral and cancer drugs.
The inmates said a Justice Ministry response under which certain ailing inmates would be released early was not enough and would only lead to the release of about 30 patients.
Protesters posted photos on social media showing inmates sleeping on double bunks packed tightly together and on mattresses on the floor.
One ailing man lay on a bunk, a drip in his arm fixed to a mop handle due to lack of equipment.
Prison guards’ union head Spiros Karakitsos said the prisoners had accurately depicted current conditions.
“It’s a shocking situation,” Mr Karakitsos said.
Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks tweeted that he was “worried at reports of degrading conditions of prisoners” at Korydallos hospital and said a quick resolution was necessary.
Chronically overcrowded Greek prisons have suffered an increase in inmate numbers and a dramatic decrease in staff and funding over the past few years, exacerbated by the country’s externally dictated austerity policies.
Korydallos hospital has seen a big increase in HIV positive inmates, who are held there even if not presently sick.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled several times that conditions in Greek prisons and police holding cells constitute inhuman or degrading punishment.
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