(CIVICUS MONITOR)

Expression

Attacks on media professionals by non-state violent actors

On 20th January 2019, during a protest opposing the Greek government’s approval of the name change of Macedonia to North Macedonia, several reporters, photojournalists and cameramen were allegedly assaulted and harassed by protesters. According to the victims accounts, the perpetrators are believed to be affiliated with the far-right extremists movement. The Union of Greek photojournalists (EFE) reported that at least five photojournalists were deliberately attacked and injured by violent protesters and some of their equipment was stolen. The following cases were reported by the international media rights watchdog, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the respective media employers of the affected journalists. (See more details on the 20th January protest in the Peaceful Assembly section below)

  • A correspondent for the French daily newspaper La Croix, Thomas Jacobi, reported of being attacked while he attempted to take photos and videos of the clashes in Athens between police and far-right supporters. He alleged that perpetrators who belonged to the far-right party Golden Dawn beat him, resulting in him being hospitalised for a night. The perpatrators destroyed his camera and demanded him to erase videos of the demonstration from his phone. Jacobi is the co-producer of the 2016 critical documentary on the Golden Dawn party, titled “Golden Dawn: A Personal Affair”. During the attack, he recorded the attackers asking him whether he was the journalist behind the Golden Dawn party documentary film.
  • Violent demonstrators also attacked Kostis Dadamis working with Sputnik Greece who was subsequently taken to a hospital after receiving a head injury, according to Sputnik Greece. He also had his camera equipment stolen. According to preliminary reports, he was attacked by a group of protesters after refusing to give them his camera. Other journalists who came to help have also been reportedly attacked.
  • A crew employed by the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, ERT (in Greek: Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi, ΕΡΤ), the Greece’s state-owned radio and television broadcaster, was also attacked by “extremists elements“. Cameraman Costas Papadatos and journalist Elina Kolivka were verbally harassed and afterwards, according to Papadatos, he was hit on his back and in his face while the police stood by.

The Board of Directors of the Union of Photojournalists of Greece denounced the attacks on photojournalists covering the 20th January 2019 protests and claimed that “there is a clear suspicion that the current attack may have been planned in advance and that photojournalists in the demonstrations were the target” (Translated from Greek). Further the Union called on the authorities to condemn the attack and urged them to reconsider its rhetoric to ensure it does not contribute to such incidents and to “such fascist attacks” against people and freedom of the press.

In relation to these attacks against media professionals,the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator urged the Greek authorities to investigate the incidents and stated:

“Authorities should speak out forcefully against attempts to intimidate the media, and ensure that journalists can freely and safely cover events of public interest.”

In a separate incident on 14th May 2019, the car of a well-known police reporter for the CNN’s Greek edition, Mina Karamitrou, was destroyed in an arson attack. Karamitrou believes the attack was related to her reporting on the case of the leader of the disbanded leftist terror group, “November 17”, Dimitris Koufodinas, who is currently serving 11 life sentences for murders committed while he was affiliated with the group. CNN Greece called the incident “an attack on the entire journalistic world” and CPJ urged that “journalists’ safety and well-being must be ensured, and protective measures are often critical for those who cover crime.”

Bill to decriminalise press defamation tabled in parliament

In February 2019, the Ministry of Justice tabled in parliament an important amendment to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code that seeks to decriminalise defamation in the press. Under the Greek law, defamation is considered a “flagrant” crime, meaning a complaint against a person accused of defamation can result in their immediate detention following a procedure set in article 417of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Ministry of Justice proposed amendment to Article 417 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for the exclusion from the procedure of offenses under Articles 361 (slander), 362 (defamation) and 363 (slanderous defamation) of the Penal Code, unless there are particularly serious grounds.

Human rights organisations have called for the law to be repealed as the it has been used to arrest journalists following lawsuits filed by government officials. For example, in September 2018, three Greek newspaper journalists covering the migrant crisis were detained overnight as a result of a defamation complaint brought against them by the Minister of Defence.

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders (RSF), published in mid-April 2019, found that media freedom in Greece has made some progress in 2018 while stressing that journalists continued to face difficulties in doing their jobs. On the positive side, the Index emphasisedthe Greek parliament passing of “landmark bill paving the way for the abolition of the “flagrant procedure” for press crimes, with the exception of “very serious cases””. As noted above, the RSF also said that the flagrant procedure “is frequently used by politicians and powerful businessmen to arrest journalists.”

Association

On 4th April 2019, the head of the human rights independent advisory body to the state, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR), Giorgos Stavropoulos, resigned accusing the government of “authoritarianism in taking and enforcing its decisions” and for demonstrating “indifferent and often degrading positions” towards the Commission. The GNCHR’ president further criticised the government for disrespect of the GNCHR by providing insufficient budget that left the “GNCHR struggl[ing] to rise up to the challenges of its role” and disregard the Commission’s work and recommendations. Stavropoulos alleged that the government often ignored official documents and requests sent by the GNCHR and did not cooperate with the Commission on human rights issues.

One of the main concern that Stavropoulos raised in his resignation letter is the government’s “wish[ing] to alter the GNCHR composition, as well as to make it dysfunctional and completely inactive” by the decision to add five members from the LGBTQI community and two more members from the Roma community to the body’s board. Although agreeing that the Roma and LGBTQ+ communities should be represented at the GNCHR, Stavropoulos argued the decision was made without consultation and violates “any principle of equality” in relation to the other members of the GNCHR who only have one vote in the committee.

The resignation of the GNCHR’s president, prompted a debate in the parliament over the independence of the GNCHR and whether the proposed changes by the government to the GNCHR’s board composition is line with the requirements of the United Nations’s Paris Principles – a set of internationally recognised standards to guarantee the credibility, independence and effectiveness of independent national human rights institutions.

This case further illustrates the contentious debate around the LGBTQI issues in Greece. Despite some recent legislative advancement on LGBTQI rights by the ruling leftist party SYRIZA, CIVICUS affiliated activist noted that the public opinion on LGBTQI issues in Greece is increasingly opposing the political decisions on LGBTQI issue. As noted by the LGBTI activist and the crisis response fund administrator at CIVICUS, the public attitudes toward the LGBTQI community in Greece remain hardened. In its 2019 review of LGBTI rights, the CSO International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)-Europe reports the prevalence of homophobic and transphobic speech in Greece, particularly by the clergy.

Peaceful Assembly

On 20th January 2019, over 60,000 people gathered in Athens to protest against the parliament voting on a landmark deal proposing the name change of neighbouring country Macedonia to North Macedonia. The protest comes ahead of the parliament vote on the name change deal that was agreed in June 2018 between the Greek and Macedonian authorities in a bid to end a decades-long dispute.

According to media reports, the demonstration was initially largely peaceful but eventually turned violent as clashes between police and masked protesters left around 40 people injured. Protesters attempted to enter the Parliament building and reportedly used clubs, firebombs and other objects to attack officers guarding the building, injuring some of the police officers. Police responded with tear gas to disperse protesters. The government blamed “extremists, members of (neo-Nazi party) Golden Dawn” for provoking the violence.

On 5th of April 2019, following false news on the lifting of travel restrictions and the reopening of borders for migrants to travel to northern Europe, clashes erupted between hundreds of migrants and security forces, lasting three days. The false news that according to the authorities spread through social media, led to demonstrations by refugees and migrants who had arrived from other parts of Greece and set up makeshift camps outside the refugee camp in Diavata (located some 60km to the north border). Migrants tried to break through the security forces cordon, preventing them from reaching a road leading to the border with neighbouring North Macedonia. Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades as migrants reportedly threw stones and bottles at the security forces. Among the protesting migrants there were families with small children. According to media reports several migrants, including children, fainted due to the tear gas smoke. The unrest spread to Athens, where migrants blocked the railway station in protest to demand access to other EU countries.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been trapped in Greece since the 2016 deal between Turkey and the European Union and the closure of the borders along the so-called Balkan route. Human rights organisations revealed that asylum seekers in Greece suffer inhumane conditions in the camps and that they do not have access to basic services as they are also caught up in the slow processing of asylum applications.

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