A Bangladeshi worker in the southwestern Greek town of Manolada is shown recovering in his tent Thursday, a day after three foremen at a strawberry farm allegedly opened fire on about 200 Bangladeshi immigrants who protested over unpaid wages.
By Renee Maltezou, Reuters
ATHENS, Greece -- Greek police were searching Thursday for three foremen who were suspected of shooting and wounding more than 20 migrant workers at a strawberry farm.
The supervisors were believed to have opened fire on Wednesday at a crowd of about 200 mostly Bangladeshi immigrants who were demanding wages that had not been paid, police said. The wounded were taken to a hospital, but none of the injuries was believed to be serious.
Anti-foreigner sentiment has been rising in Greece, where one worker in four is unemployed after five years of recession.
Police said they had arrested the owner of the farm, in the southwestern town of Manolada, and were still hunting the foremen.
One of the immigrants involved in the protests told Greek Skai TV that they had been promised wages of $28.70 a day.
"They keep telling us that we will get paid in a month, and this has been going on for more than a year," said the worker, who was not identified. "We don't talk about it because we are afraid that we will be killed or kicked out."
Greece is a gateway for mostly Asian and African migrants trying to enter the European Union through its porous sea and land borders.
Most of those who find work in Greece are employed illegally; more than 40 percent of Greece's informal workers are migrants.
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, said after visiting Greece this year that he was seriously concerned about a rise in racist violence and urged authorities to get tougher.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou on Thursday condemned what he called an "inhuman attack."
"This unprecedented and shameful act is foreign to Greek ethics," he said.
Updated at 6:20 p.m. ET: Practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in San Francisco claim they have been the targets of a series of assaults orchestrated by the Chinese consulate, and they’re urging police and prosecutors to investigate the incidents as hate crimes.
Falun Gong practitioners have been harassed and assaulted at least nine times in past eight months -- seven times in Chinatown alone, said Sherry Zhang, spokeswoman for the Falun Gong in San Francisco. Police reports were filed in at least three cases, she said.
“We definitely want them to take this very seriously. It definitely is not an isolated incident anymore,” Zhang told msnbc.com on Wednesday.
San Francisco police said there's no indication to date that Chinese authorities are behind the attacks.
Falun Gong is outlawed in China, where the Communist Party leadership in 1999 declared it a “heretical organization” and views it as a destructive cult. Falun Gong leaders claim their adherents are persecuted and tortured in China, and that followers in the U.S. and other countries are harassed by people loyal to the Chinese government.
Falun Gong followers in San Francisco last week showed a video of an alleged assault to the Board of Supervisors and also held a demonstration outside City Hall.
The video was of a June 10 incident on a street corner in San Francisco's Chinatown where a group of Falun Gong practitioners had gathered, holding signs and handing out literature detailing what they said was the persecution and torture of followers in China.
In the video, which Zhang said was a compilation of shots by Falun Gong practitioners and bystanders, an older Chinese man in a hat allegedly curses at a Falun Gong member and then punches him in the face. As police arrive, another Chinese-speaking man in the crowd gestures toward a person filming the incident and, according to the videomaker’s translation, yells, “Don’t stare at me. If I in mainland China I would break your leg.” A 72-year-old man is being investigated for alleged battery in the case, according to the police report.
In another case on June 16, a Falun Gong member told police a Chinese man struck her wrist with a protest sign. The man was cited by police and released.
“These are hate crimes. The only reason for them is because people influenced by the Chinese Consulate want to attack Falun Gong,” Zhang told The Epoch Times, a newspaper founded by followers and supporters of Falun Gong.
“This attack targets a group of people because of their belief. In the United States, if you attack an individual or their belongings because of their belief, it’s regarded as a hate crime,” Ye Ning, a New York-based human rights attorney, told New Tang Dynasty Television, a broadcaster based in New York. “This incident in San Francisco does not appear to be a simple act of violence. There was no motive aside from hate."
The Chinese Consulate-General in San Francisco did not respond to a telephone call and email from msnbc.com for comment on Wednesday.
Police Officer Carlos Manfredi said Wednesday there's no indication in the police reports that the June 10 and June 16 incidents were the work of the Chinese consulate.
"As of right now the two separate incidents were simple battery. The suspects were charged and have court dates," he said.
Manfredi said, however, that police are still collecting information on all the incidents.
“If the investigation shows that the folks were attacked based on their religion, then absolutely that would be the motivation and that would be a hate crime,” he said.
He said he couldn’t comment on allegations the attacks were coordinated until the investigation is completed, the TV station reported.
Claims of abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by government authorities in China are not new. Amnesty International recently issued an appeal on its website calling for international action to free two Falun Gong practitioners it said were detained and “at risk of torture.”
Thapelo Makutle, 23, had argued late Friday night with two men about his sexuality, his friend, Shaine Griqua told mambaonline.com. Those two men followed him home, broke down his door and killed him, Griqua said.
Makutle, known as Queen Bling, was active in the LGBT community in the Kuruman region, a rural area in the north, Griqua told mambaonline.com. He said his friend identified as gay and recently started calling himself transgender.
"It's so sad. I can't describe the pain that we are feeling right now," Griqua told mambaonline. "We have lost a young, talented, gay man who was open about who he was. The last few days have been like a dark cloud."
Griqua, the director of Legbo Northern Cape, a nonprofit that provides sexual health education, released a statement saying that witnesses had seen Thapelo’s body, and that his genitalia had been “severed and inserted into his mouth.”
Police have not arrested anyone in the case, according to media reports.
South Africa has long been lauded for its liberal positions on gay rights. The country was the first to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution, and same-sex marriage became legal in 2006.
But a Human Rights Watch report from 2011 found that black lesbians and transgender men in rural areas of South Africa face “extensive discrimination and violence in their daily lives, both from private individuals and government officials.”
Nearly all 120 people interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they lived in fear of sexual assault and that they were reluctant to approach police for protection.