Defence Minister Panos Kammenos caused an uproar, after an emergency lawsuit that he filed led to the arrest and overnight detention of three journalists.
Critics are accusing Kammenos, who is the junior coalition partner in Alexis Tsipras’ government, of an effort to muzzle the press, as he has repeatedly filed lawsuits against journalists whose articles or opinion pieces have strongly criticised him.
The latest victims of Kammenos’ cottage industry of lawsuits against journalists and media outlets were the journalists of the newspaper Fileleftheros. Kammenos sued the newspaper over an article reporting on the inhuman conditions of the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the island of Lesvos, and on the management of European and other funds, which according to a recent statement by the EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, amount to 1.6 billion euros.
The lawsuit was filed against the newspaper’s publisher, Thanasis Mavridis, Editor-in-Chief Panagiotis Lampsias, Managing Editor Vasilis Georgas, publication director Georgios Baltas, chief politics correspondent Katerina Galanou, and journalists Gavriil Seretis and Nicoletta Moutousi.
When policemen search for journalists in newspapers’ offices, and Editors-in-Chief and journalists are fingerprinted by state security because they wrote an article about a minister, this injures democracy.
On the morning of Saturday, 22 September, police showed up at the offices of the newspaper Fileleftheros and the website liberal.gr, and sought the individuals who had been sued. They left because the offices were closed.
The journalist were informed that the lawsuit was filed and that the emergency arrest and trial option (which must occur within 48 hours of the alleged crime) was chosen. They remained in their homes awaiting the police, and finally decided to voluntarily appear as a group at the General Police Directorate of Attica (GADA).
From there, they were transported to the Exarheia police precinct, where they were detained all night.
Under the emergency arrest and trial procedure, they were fingerprinted, and on Sunday there were led before a prosecutor. They were subsequently freed, as an investigation of the press report was launched.
The arrest of journalists was carried by the international media and embarrassed the country, as Greece appeared as a state that tramples on freedom of the press.
The report was carried on the websites of the Washington Post and the New York Times. According to the Associated Press, the journalists were detained following charges filed by Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, whose ministry manages some EU funds. The article, which was published on 21 September, reported that some of the recipients of the funding earmarked for migrants were businessmen linked to Kammenos.
Panayiotis Lampsias, the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, said the intervention was "shameful”."
"There is an issue with democracy when politicians in power believe that they can bring accusations against journalists whom they do not like. It is shameful for all those who tolerate such an utterly depraved procedure," he said.
"My colleagues cannot have the fear hanging over them that they might be the next at risk from some minister," he added. "The silence of SYRIZA, which was a pioneer in the political defence of rights, is shameful."
“Not only do we stand by our reporting, but we will continue to expand it,” the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Panayiotis Lampsias, told The Associated Press. “Other papers are taking it up, the investigation, as well.”
“It’s a battle for free expression,” Fileleftheros publisher Thanassis Mavridis told reporters after their release. “We managed to sleep last night. I wanted to ask Messrs. Kammenos, (Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras and (Digital Policy Minister Nikos) Pappas how well they slept last night. This is a question that will haunt them for years.”
The entire Greek political and press establishment condemned the effort to intimidate and muzzle the press, violating its fundamental freedom.
Mikis Theodorakis’ statement
Internationally famed composer Mikis Theodorakis’ statement was indicative.
He said that now “democratic vigilance” is needed to confront such phenomena, and he stressed that “the muzzling of the press has always been the start of bleak developments”.
ND: ‘Display of arrogance, authoritarianism, establishmentarianism’
“The SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government today engaged in yet another display of arrogance, authoritarianism, and establismentarianism. Panos Kammenos requested the arrest of seven journalists who work for the newspaper Fileleftheros, because they dared to ask how huge amounts of EU funding, which was given to Greece in order to manage the migration issue, was squandered,” main opposition New Democracy said in a statement.
“The thuggery of Mr. Kammenos scares no one. Whether he likes it or not, he must explain the national disgrace called Moria, as must his supposedly left-wing, sensitive fellow ministers, who on a daily basis debase human existence and disgrace Greece internationally,” the statement said.
Movement for Change sees establishmentarianism
“The establishmentarian mentality of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government continues. Mr. Kammenos yet again answers criticism with a lawsuit and emergency trial procedures, this time against the journalists of the newspaper Fileleftheros,” said Pavlos Christidis, the spokesman for the centre-left Movement for Change, in a statement.
To Potami party responds
“The image of Fileleftheros journalists in a police precinct and of police descending on the newspaper’s offices due to an article, as a result of the lawsuit of a minister – who, hiding behind his parliamentary immunity, derides everyone – is reminiscent of other eras and other regimes,” said Potami party spokesman Dimitris Tsiodras.
The Board of the Athens Dailies Journalists Union (ESIEA) denounced the appearance of policemen at the offices of the website liberal.gr, and the fact that they were searching for journalists in order for them to be tried with emergency procedure, subsequent to a lawsuit filed by a government minister.