By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court acquitted two men accused over the shooting of migrant farm workers who were demanding unpaid wages and gave two foremen suspended sentences in a ruling that prompted outrage from unions and rights groups on Thursday.
Twenty eight migrants, mostly Bangladeshi, were wounded when foremen at a strawberry farm opened fire on about 200 immigrant workers who were protesting for back pay in the southwestern town of Manolada in April last year.
"This shameful ruling stops people who are in a similar situation from fighting for their rights; stops victims of human trafficking from fighting for dignity, freedom and their lives," said lawyer Moses Karabeidis, who represented 35 migrant workers, including the wounded.
The court in the southern city of Patras on Wednesday acquitted the farm owner and a supervisor and handed down prison terms of seven and 14 years for two foremen on charges of causing grievous bodily harm. The sentences will be suspended pending an appeal hearing, court sources said. The ruling in favor of the owner and supervisor cannot be appealed.
All four had denied any wrong-doing. The foremen said they had acted in self defense.
"The court did justice to the defendants by releasing them after 16 months of illegal detention," said defense lawyer Dinos Argyropoulos.
Karabeidis said: "It was an embarrassment for Greek justice, it was a parody trial."
He said the migrant workers, who had been demanding six months of back pay, had still not been paid and face deportation when their immigration permits expire in September. The workers say they were owed 22 euros a day.
Anti-immigrant sentiment has surged in recent years in Greece, where a six-year recession has wiped out a quarter of the economy and left one in four jobless.
The anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party, whose members have been accused of attacking immigrants, remains Greece's third most popular party despite a crackdown that has landed its leader and top lawmakers in jail. Rights groups have often accused authorities of turning a blind eye.
"This is the worst message the court could send to the Greek people: Hitting poor immigrants goes unpunished," Dimitris Christopoulos, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights said.
The ruling was also condemned by GSEE, one of Greece's biggest labor unions, and by the main opposition party, the radical leftist Syriza.
"This decision ... leaves room for new victims and turns a blind eye to the brutal, inhuman racist exploitation of workers," Syriza MP Vassiliki Katrivanou said in a statement.
(Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Janet Lawrence)