Further ‘Predatorgate’ surveillance revelations, cost of living crisis sparks protests
Along with the rest of Europe, Greece is suffering from an unusually high inflation rate (9.5% annual inflation rate in October 2022, with the EU average at 10.6%). The rising costs (especially the cost of food) have sparked protests in the country. Besides the soaring prices and the consequent social unrest, in recent months the Greek government has also faced yet another chapter of the Pegasus scandal, after a new long list of journalists and politicians wiretapped by the spyware was revealed in November 2022 by Documento journal.
Meanwhile, Greece remains one of the main targets of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea. In November 2022, the county, along with Italy, Malta and Cyprus, issued a joint statement and called on the EU to do a better job in alleviating their burden of managing the immigration flow. The countries also condemned the operation of private charity vessels attempting to rescue people from the sea “acting in total autonomy from the competent state authorities”.
Trade union register deemed unconstitutional
On 8th November 2022, the provisions of a law creating a general register of trade union organisations were deemed to be unconstitutional and contrary to the European Convention as well as Greek legislation by a chamber of the Council of State, the supreme administrative court in Greece. The competent Department of the Council of State referred the matter for an irrevocable decision to the Plenary of the court as it ruled that the provisions for the creation of the General Register of Trade Union Organisations conflict with the Constitution, which enshrines freedom of association, and violate the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. It considered that the suspension of a number of trade union rights in the case of failure to register entails a manifestly disproportionate and a particularly serious interference with the right to freedom of association. The provisions of the above-mentioned law were also deemed to be contrary to the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which sets the rule of prohibition of processing of specific personal data revealing membership of a trade union organisation unless in some justified exceptional cases.
“The promotion of public interest goals should not be pursued by legislative regulations that end up attacking the core of freedom of association or imply restrictions of said freedom in violation of the principle of proportionality or cause an illegal infringement of other rights protected by the Constitution or EU law, such as the right to the protection of personal data,” said the judges.
General strike against price hikes
On 9th November 2022, a general strike took place in the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki. The soaring cost of living driven by inflation brought together tens of thousands of protesters to request higher wages to compensate for the effects of inflation and the rise in energy costs. “We demand higher wages and social protection for everyone,” said the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), an organisation representing employees in the private sector. The Confederation denounced “the inflation suffocating Greek households and the jungle-like conditions in the labour market”. As a consequence of the strike, there were numerous disruptions in transport, hospitals and schools. Brief clashes took place in both Thessaloniki and Athens between a few demonstrators and the riot police. Some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at the police, who responded with tear gas. As a result, police detained a number of protesters. No serious injuries were reported.
Demonstration against child rape
On 15th October 2022, protesters threw paint at the shop of an alleged child rapist and pimp in Athens. Hundreds of people took part in the demonstration to demand justice and end the regime of indifference. Some altercations later erupted between anti-riot police and some of the protestors. The People's Assembly of Kolonou-Academy Plato-Sepolia, one of the organisers of the demonstration, stated that while the march was in progress the police provoked women protesters “with insults and sexist comments” including comments such as “we will f*ck you, we will take you to the Omonia station to have a good time”, referring to the rape of a 19-year-old girl by two police officers at the Omonia police station. The People’s Assembly added that police officers have beaten peaceful demonstrators with batons, who were sent to hospital for immediate medical attention.
New chapter in Predator scandal
Following the surveillance scandal of Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis and later others, on 6th November 2022 the Greek journal Documento revealed a new list of persons whose devices were wiretapped with the spyware tool called ‘Predator’. The spying scandal has rocked Greek politics in recent months. The new list contains not only the names of opposition politicians and critical journalists, but also government ministers and their wives. According to the report published by Documento, some people on the list were potential rivals and/or people not trusted by the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Since this revelation, the Prime Minister has still not spoken out. The government denied having used any illegal spyware tool. However, it has admitted that in certain cases it carried out “legal” surveillance activities for “national security” reasons.
A special national parliamentary committee of inquiry was set up to investigate the state surveillance scandal but many denounced it as an obstructed investigation. The lack of confidence in this national committee led Greek journalists in September 2022 to call on the European Parliament to support them by asking the European Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA Committee) and to provide funding and facilities so that they can investigate whether their devices were monitored. In October 2022, partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) backed the journalists and made similar calls.
“As spyware and other advanced surveillance technologies become more prevalent across Europe in the coming years, the threat to democracy and civil rights will likewise increase. Already, multiple EU Member States –including Hungary – have abused these technologies to target journalists, activists and other members of civil society. In addition to tougher regulation, mechanisms must urgently be put in place to ensure that flagrant abuses of these cyber weapons against the media and others are swiftly identified and addressed.”
On 8th September 2022, the PEGA Committee invited some journalists including Thanasis Koukakis to testify about their experience with surveillance.
“The committee has shown a sincere interest in the case of surveillance in Greece and I am sure that it will exert a lot of pressure to highlight aspects of the case that have not yet been clarified,” said Koukakis.