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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Greek net cafes face ruin
Scene from Counter-Strike
Playing computer games like Counter-Strike is banned

Greek police have been accused of using "Taleban tactics" after a fresh wave of arrests under a controversial law banning all forms of computer games closed down internet cafes around the country.

A judge in the city of Thessaloniki had earlier thrown out the first case brought under the gaming law but prosecutors have appealed against the decision and launched a new crackdown.

"The police are acting like the Taleban, closing down businesses, seizing property and stopping people enjoying themselves," one of the two owners awaiting a retrial, Christos Iordanidis, told the BBC.

Four arrests were made in the northern town of Serres, another in the central Greek city of Larissa and a sixth in Orestiada.

In each case, computers were seized and impounded as evidence of criminal activity. More arrests are expected.

Delaying tactics

The Greek gaming community have expressed their fears that the latest raids represent a change in tactics that could see widespread confiscation of PCs.


In an atmosphere of darkness and a return to the middle ages... the parliament has unanimously criminalised the playing of computer games, even over the internet

Spokesman for Greek Internet Cafe Union
A court hearing in Serres on Thursday backed the Thessaloniki judge's decision that the ban was unconstitutional, but police have so far refused to return confiscated computers.

Campaigners have accused local prosecutors of deliberately delaying legal proceedings in a bid to economically cripple cafe owners.

"The prosecutor by-passed the normal procedure and will announce the trial at a date that could be up to a year from now. That means that the owner will be ruined, he has no computers to work with," said Mr Iordanidis.

The Greek Government passed legislation in July outlawing all electronic or mechanical games in a bid to stamp out an illegal gambling epidemic thought to be worth 320 million euros per day.

European heavyweights

The bill has been widely criticised for failing to distinguish between fruit machines and mainstream computer games such as Counter-Strike and Age of Empires.

"In an atmosphere of darkness and a return to the middle ages, with a logic only encountered in dictatorships where the internet is seen as diabolical, the parliament has unanimously criminalised the playing of computer games, even over the internet," said a spokesman for the internet cafe owners' union.

Greek Campaigners have been joined by European gaming heavyweights Sega, Namco and JVH in an appeal against the blanket ban to be heard by the European Commission in October.

However, Nikos Serdaris, managing director of gaming company's JVH's Greek division believes the Greek Government, and the bills main sponsor deputy finance minister Apostolos Fotiadis, will not back down easily under EU pressure.

Widespread support

"This law was passed purely for political reasons. I've met with Mr Fotiadis and he told me he knows the law is not OK, but it was a political decision and they won't abide by European law," said Mr Serdaris.

Law 3037 was passed in record time in the wake of a national scandal earlier this year involving an MP from the ruling Pasok party, forced to resign after being caught on film playing on a fruit machine at an illegal gambling shop.

"The Greek Government does not have a good record of abiding by European law," said Mr Serdaris.

The presiding judge in the case in Serres told one defendant: "I do not care what they do in the European Union," according to local media.

Greek Gamers have launched an online petition that has attracted international support and been signed by more than 19,000 people.

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Technology
05 Sep 02 | Technology
18 Sep 02 | England
16 Sep 02 | Technology
30 Aug 02 | Technology
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