Two more people have been arrested in connection with the attack on the Dias media group and clashes outside the Presidential Palace on Sunday night by a group of anti-vaxxers, after a demonstration against COVID-19 vaccines and the SafePass turned violent.
A police official told the Financial Mirror on Wednesday that two more people were arrested, added to the 12 who have already been remanded in custody; five for four days and another seven for eight days.
The official said that a further six arrest warrants have been issued after police had evaluated visual evidence and other witness accounts from the events of the night.
In all, 20 people have been directly involved as instigators or perpetrators of the attack on the Dias group’s Sigma TV station and clashes with police at the Presidential Palace.
At around 8.30pm on Sunday, a group broke into the TV station’s main building, destroying equipment, smashing glass doors and windows, terrorising staff and setting fire to cars in the parking lot.
The incidents followed a demonstration outside the Presidential Palace where a crowd of a few thousand protested against the coronavirus vaccines and for ‘freedom’.
Demonstrators were protesting the government’s decision to introduce the use of the Safe Pass, holders of which must either be vaccinated, have recovered from the virus or take a test every 72 hours. As of August 1, the free national rapid testing programme will be replaced with a charge of €10 per test.
Some of the demonstrators broke away and headed to the Dias media group and attacked the building.
According to eyewitness accounts, the attackers, some carrying crosses in the one hand and Molotov cocktails in the other, broke through the gates.
They threw a flare into the security booth, which was soon engulfed in flames with the head of the group’s security Demetris Skouros trapped inside.
Skouros said that he yelled to the attackers: “I am going to die in here, and they said ‘You and [Sigma CEO Chrysanthos] Tsouroulis should die, you are fascists’,”
“They had stones and bricks, all sorts of things, and they were wearing hoods,” he said. Skouros eventually escaped after smashing a side window with a fire extinguisher as the perpetrators had moved on to the main building.
Amongst those remanded in custody on Tuesday is Dr Elpidoforos Soreriades, an advisor to the Holy Synod of Cyprus Church on the COVID-19 outbreak.
Soteriades was considered a lead suspect as one of the organisers of the demonstration outside the Presidential Palace. An epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Open University of Cyprus, he claims that government measures are over the top and should be withdrawn.
He is known for his ties with COVID-denier and gay-hater Morphou Bishop Neophytos.
Last year in May, after participating in a Holy Synod meeting to discuss the pandemic and measures, participants had been photographed standing all together, with only Soteriades and the Morphou Bishop posing without a face mask.
Meanwhile, the police force has come under fierce criticism from the founder and chairman of Dias Media Group, Costis Hadjicostis, and the opposition for ‘taking their time’ to respond to calls for help from Sigma TV.
Speaking to CyBC on Monday, Sigma TV’s news chief Yiannis Kareklas said that police had been warned by Sigma journalists of threats made towards the station from early on Sunday afternoon, before the demonstration was in full swing.
“The response was tepid. Police told us not to worry, not to think about it, that nothing’s going to happen. They took no measures to protect the building,” claimed Kareklas.
On Monday morning, Dias chairman Costis Hadjicostis confronted President Nicos Anastasiades during the latter’s visit to Dias to inspect damages.
“This is your last chance to prove you exist,” Hadjicostis said, according to a Philelefteros report, demanding the president punish those involved.
Anastasiades responded by saying that “whenever the police make a move to restore justice, they face attacks and criticism” implying, as understood, the Dias Media Group.
Commitment to justice
The President has since then conveyed the government’s commitment to bringing the perpetrators of the attack on Sigma TV to justice.
In a tweet, the president also said he had been in touch with the two policemen injured during the clashes at the Presidential Palace on Sunday, who are doing well.
As it emerged later, some 12 policemen were injured during the clashes.
All politicians condemned the attack, with the opposition’s leading MP Irene Charalambidou questioning the absence of the police.
“The attacks on Sigma TV are unacceptable. The state was absent and any attack on journalists is an attack on freedom of the press. Where was the police?” she tweeted.
The incidents were discussed during a meeting on Tuesday, between the President, Justice Minister Stephie Drakou and the police.
Following the meeting, Drakou said, “we have a duty to pursue the investigations and to ensure that those who invaded the group will be brought to justice”.
She added that the President has asked to be kept updated on developments.
“He has given very strict orders to bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Drakou.