Press freedom in Greece increasingly threatened: journalists, NGOs | Freedom of press

Athens, Greece – Press freedom is increasingly threatened in Greece, say journalists, NGOs and observers concerned about recent events, including the alleged surveillance of reporters, what they call a vague law banning “fake news” and the harassment of a Dutch reporter who challenged the Prime Minister.

Among those affected is Stavros Malichudis, a Greek journalist who believes he is under surveillance by the Greek National Intelligence Service.

Malichudis says he discovered he was being watched after the Greek daily Efimerida ton Syntakton (Editors’ Journal) published on November 14 disclosed documents from a security service source about how COVID conspiracy theorists were being watched.

The article also focused on the monitoring of those involved in the migration field, including journalists. Malichudis, who works for Agence France Presse (AFP) and Greek magazine Salomon, has been appointed.

Malichudis was reportedly placed under surveillance after working on an article about a 12-year-old Syrian boy in a refugee camp on the island of Kos whose work had appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde.

“In Greece, we like to condemn other countries when it comes to press freedom but never look at our own case,” Malichudis told Al Jazeera. “Since the issue of my surveillance became known, I have received messages of support from media reporters from all walks of life. But most of the Greek media… didn’t even report on it, ”he said.

“It’s intrusive, it’s scary and I think that’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Human rights groups have told Al Jazeera that Malichudis’ story is part of a worrying degradation of press freedom in the country.

On November 17, it was reported that Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel had temporarily left Greece after being attacked online, accused of disseminating Turkish propaganda and physically assaulted.

Beugel had questioned Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a heated exchange at a press conference in Athens on November 9, accusing him of lying about refoulements of asylum seekers, which have been widely documented by European NGOs.

People on social media wrote: “I should drown with the refugees, whom I deserve to be tarred and feathered. A lot of the comments are very sexist. I can’t read it anymore, ”Beugel said.

Pavol Szalai, who heads the European Union and Balkans office of Reporters Without Borders, said: “Press freedom in Greece has taken a dangerous turn in recent weeks. In particular, journalists working on migration, which is a matter of national and European public interest, are increasingly threatened.

Szalai said Beugel suffered “a well-orchestrated campaign of discrediting on social media and pro-government media, but also physical assault that forced her to consider leaving the country.”

Beugel claims that after his exchange with the Prime Minister, a man threw a stone at him in a dark street, hitting his forehead.

Szalai urged the Greek authorities to condemn the attacks on Beugel, saying that a journalist having to “flee” a European country for safety reasons “is in itself terrifying testimony to the climate for journalists in Greece, but it will also have consequences. lasting consequences. on freedom of the press there ”.

The surveillance of Malichudis was also “extremely worrying”, he said.

“In a democracy, it is unacceptable to spy on journalists who are only doing their job. We called on the intelligence services to shed light on this scandalous breach of the confidentiality of journalistic sources. “

Additionally, a new Greek amendment banning “fake news” has raised concerns about its potentially enormous power.

The law passed on November 11, which updated an existing penal code, makes the sharing of false news a criminal offense and states that any citizen who shares false information that is “likely to cause public concern or fear or undermine public confidence in the national economy. , the country’s defense capacity or public health ”, could face fines or a prison sentence of up to three months.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there was a “serious risk that the provision could be used to punish media professionals, civil society and anyone who criticizes or challenges government policies, creating a chilling effect on the public. freedom of expression and freedom of the media ”.

Eva Cossé, HRW researcher in Greece, told Al Jazeera: “The Greek government accuses its critics of bias, politically motivated criticism, Turkish propaganda or factual error, but the truth is simpler: rule of law and human rights in Greece are failing.

“In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out about important matters of public interest, if the government claims it is wrong. Civil society working on migrant rights is under attack and the state of press freedom is at its worst. Obviously, Greece has taken the wrong direction when it comes to rights. “

Responding to Al Jazeera’s questions about press freedom and the alleged harassment of journalists, a government spokesperson categorically denied monitoring the press.

“Let me reiterate that Greece fully adheres to the values ​​of a democratic society and the rule of law, in particular pluralism and freedom of the press. As a result, it stands to reason that there is no surveillance of journalists in Greece, ”the spokesperson said.

Looking ahead, Szalai says he starts every new week “fearing the kind of press freedom violation Greek media will suffer … The Greek government must show its willingness to protect journalists and take concrete action to improve press freedom “.

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