Greece downgraded in global ratings report on civic freedoms.16 March, 2023
- Greece has been downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’
- Repeated targeting of activists & civil society working on refugee & asylum seeker rights
- Surveillance and attacks on journalists; restrictions on protests
Greece has been downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2022, the repeated targeting of civil society and activists working with refugees and asylum seekers, disproportionate responses to protests and continuous legal harassment and surveillance of journalists, led to the downgrade.
Historically regarded as the birthplace of democracy, this downgrade means that civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, are now being continuously undermined in Greece. Other obstructed countries include Hungary, Poland and Serbia.
From legal harassment to deregistrations, the Greek government continues to target civil society organisations and activists working to advance the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. In December 2022, the government accused activist Panayote Dimitras of “setting up a criminal organisation with the purpose of facilitating the illegal entry and stay in Greece of third-country nationals”, after which the activist was banned from being involved with his organisation, the Greek Helsinki Monitor, and issued with a travel ban.
The Ministry of Migration and Asylum has taken no measures to bring the 2020 law on registration of NGOs working with refugees and migrants in line with international human rights standards. In addition, a 2021 law continues to criminalise rescue operations, particularly sea search and rescue operations, forcing some CSOs to terminate their operations out of fear of being prosecuted.
On 10th January 2023 the trial against activists Sarah Mardini, Seán Binder, Nassos Karakitsos and another 21 aid workers began, after they were part of a search and rescue team on the Greek island of Lesvos in 2018. The 24 co-accused face charges of espionage and forgery, but after the trial began the Greek appeals court annulled the summons for all foreign defendants on the grounds that it had not been translated in a language they could understand, and the charge of espionage for all defendants due to lack of precision. Following this, the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, filed an annulment application against the decision of the Court which annulled the summons. There are further investigations against Mardini and other humanitarian workers underway that may carry a sentence of 20 years.
As the authorities continue to criminalise those showing solidarity with refugee’s and asylum seekers, illegal pushbacks continue.
“Criminalisation of solidarity is a serious concern in Greece and increasingly a concern throughout the EU. EU institutions should make use of all available rule of law mechanism tools to ensure that Greek authorities refrain from targeting civil society and activists working to defend the rights of refugee’s and asylum seekers,” Aarti Narsee, Policy and Advocacy officer, European Civic Forum.
The CIVICUS Monitor and the ECF are also concerned about the ongoing targeting of journalists, including through surveillance, the use of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and the use of restrictive laws to target media freedoms.
Under the pretext of national security, the National Intelligence Service (EYP) has systematically ordered surveillance against investigative journalists, people working with refugees and others increasingly in recent years and especially after a law on the confidentiality of communications was amended in 2021. At least 33 people, including Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis and several others, including opposition politicians were targeted with illegal spyware Predator on their devices. Investigative journalist Tasos Teloglou who covered the ongoing spyware scandal was placed under surveillance by Greek secret services for “unspecified national security reasons”. The government and most recently the chief prosecutor tried to block efforts to investigate surveillance carried out by the Greek secret services by the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), an independent body.
In December 2022, the parliament passed a new controversial regulation which creates a special committee to monitor compliance of online media to journalistic ethics, and gives it power to exclude online media from government financial support and state advertisements, for as long as two years. Press freedom groups have raised concerns that the law may be misused to exclude critical media from receiving state advertising revenue.
Ongoing repressions during protests is also a concern as authorities have repeatedly responded with the use of excessive force and detention of protesters. During December 2022, thousands protested in Athens and Thessaloniki to honor the memory of a teenage student who was shot dead by police in 2008 and following the death of another Roma teenager in December 2022. During protests, police used tear gas, flash grenades, physical violence, and arrested dozens of people. Protests staged by young people against police deployment at universities throughout 2022 have also been met with excessive force. Earlier this month, protests staged by young people and labour groups, following a train crash which killed 57 people, were met with tear gas and stun grenades.
“European institutions should take steps to protect civil society and human rights defenders against the ongoing intimidation, harassment and attacks by developing an EU mechanism platform to allow civil society to regularly report these attacks and negative developments. Such a mechanism should provide direct assistance to defenders at risk and ensure that member states are held accountable ”- Aarti Narsee, Policy and Advocacy officer, European Civic Forum.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 490 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2022.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Greece is now rated ‘obstructed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. There are 39 other countries with this rating (see all). Visit Greece's homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.
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