Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into a Greek lawmaker for tearing up a paper copy of the Turkish flag during a debate in the European Parliament on Jan. 29.
Ioannis Lagos will stand trial on charges of “degrading the symbols of state sovereignty” as per the Article 300 of the Turkish Penal Code, according to a statement released by the prosecutor’s office. “Any person who publicly degrades the Turkish flag by tearing, burning it or similar action shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of one to three years,” says this article.
Yannis Lagos is an independent MEP and leader of the National Popular Conscience, a splinter group that emerged after the disintegration of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
Following his action, he was both slammed by Ankara and Athens.
“These racist minds know better than anybody how we crash and kick out to the sea those who dare attack our glorious flag. Europe’s spoiled and racist children should know their place. Europe must put an end to racism and animosity against Islam,” Turkish Foreign Minister said in a tweet on Jan. 30.
“Nobody should doubt that our flag will continue to wave proudly forever! Expecting European Parliament to take necessary measures against this clown,” he added.
Lagos blamed Turkey for the increased arrivals of refugees and migrants to the Greek islands.
Accusing Turkey of “getting away with whatever it likes,” he claimed that the migrant crisis in Greece was “dire” and depriving Greeks of their “homeland.”
“Here we have the Turkish flag… What can you do with this flag? Well, you can tear it up,” Lagos said during his incendiary remarks before the chamber.
Responding to the incident, Greece’s Foreign Ministry said that it condemned Lagos’s actions.
“Greece condemns in the most categorical manner any act of insulting a national symbol, and in this case the national symbol of Turkey, the statement read.
“The unacceptable actions of the neo-Nazis are well away from the Greek and European traditions and are an attempt to self-publicize the subversive Golden Dawn party, which the Greek society has put out of parliament,” the Greek ministry noted.
“The neo-Nazis only represent themselves,” the statement concluded.
Lagos was found guilty of attacking a community center in Athens which was hosting asylum-seekers in 2013. The Greek lawmaker, along with former Greek parliamentarian Nikos Michos and 20 other party members, had led the attack on the facility and its director.
Both parliamentarians got a two-year suspended sentence.
Last October, Italian MEP Angelo Ciocca was suspended from activities in the EP for several days for throwing a box of Turkish delight during debate over Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria.
EP’s Turkey rapporteur condemns incident
Later on Jan. 30, European Parliament President David Sassoli said that the process of implementing sanctions against Lagos was launched.
European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor also condemned Lagos’ act, saying that nothing justifies his action.
“Turkey is an EU candidate country. Our relations are not at their best in this very moment. But nothing justifies the regrettable action of tearing the flag in the European Parliament plenary,” Amor said in response to Çavuşoğlu, adding that the far-right Islamophobic narrative is “not welcome in Brussels.”
Ömer Çelik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), also condemned the incident and said that by disrespecting Turkish flag, Greek deputy showed his “personality lack of character.”
“Our flag will continue to wave proudly as a symbol of independence in our country and to remind high values to humanity everywhere on earth,” Çelik wrote on Twitter.
Stressing that the incident also targets Europe’s values, Çelik added that the EU will become the address of those who want to destroy European values, if the European Parliament surrenders to racists, instead of developing democracy.