868.00/2–2449: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Greece


285. In discussing Tsourkaris case with Canellopoulos,1 you may say Dept frankly shocked at execution, apparently solely for conscientious scruples and not, so far as can be judged urtel 337 Feb 24,2 on proven grounds intent harm Grk State or aid rebellion.

Tsourkaris case and loose phrasing War Ministry circular provide further indication indifference human life in imposition death sentences, disregard principles justice (necessity for proof), lack of sense [Page 260]proportion in domestic politics and of appreciation foreign political repercussions such attitude Grk courts martial.

Dept assumes Grk law, unlike that of Anglosaxon countries, makes no allowance conscientious objection and Dept could comprehend prison sentences for objectors (though substitute work programs certainly more humane). We might also comprehend death sentences where willful complicity with KKE proved. We are familiar peculiar activities US and abroad of pacifist sect to which Tsourkaris allegedly belonged, but we aware no evidence sect inspired or allied with communism (except incidentally where pacifism parallels local communist purposes). Jehovah’s Witnesses reportedly adhere same pacifist principles in Iron Curtain area and suffer consequent persecution by communist authorities. It is difficult believe Jehovah’s Witnesses Greece so numerous as seriously to threaten Grk state or to present problem with which precautionary application security laws could not cope. Finally it seems illogical execute pacifists when communist conscripts, who likely turn arms against State, merely subject segregation Category C.

Dept continues receive inquiries re Tsourkaris case from reputable religious and political sources, including Quakers who recently donated 5 tons clothing Grk children, and public anxiety likely turn to legitimate indignation when facts indicated reftel become known.

Recommend you acquaint Canellopoulos with foregoing in friendly but forceful manner and relate to more genl démarche suggested Dept’s A–93, Feb 8.3

  1. Greek Minister of War Panayotis Kanellopoulos.
  2. Not printed. It reported that John Tsourkaris was sentenced to death by a special court-martial in Larissa, Greece, for refusal, as a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to bear arms. Tsourkaris was executed on February 9. The Embassy considered that the imposition and execution of the sentence was based on a Greek War Ministry circular to courts-martial in Greece which claimed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had become an offshoot of the Greek Communist Party as a result of its proselytizing efforts among Greek soldiers. (868.00/2–2449)
  3. Not printed. It observed that the perfunctory Greek Government reply to an American inquiry initiated in June 1948 in connection with the sentencing to life imprisonment for alleged subversive activities of the brother-in-law of an American citizen was hardly satisfactory to American public opinion. The failure of the Greek Government to respond effectively to inquiries of this sort would, it was further observed, have unfortunate political consequences. The Embassy was requested to work out a more systematic method of processing similar inquiries of the Greek Government. (868.00/2–849)