Groups representing ethnic minorities face legal challenges when registering
Freedom of association is protected by the Greek constitution and in general citizens face no major problems or legal hindrances in establishing or running organisations. However, ethnic minorities are not legally recognised and minority groups are not allowed to register their organisations when they wish to use minority terminology in the name of the organisation. A number of such cases were brought against Greece to the European Court of Human Rights between 2005 and 2008. The Court found Greece to have violated the groups’ right to freedom of association (article 11) under the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite these rulings, the Greek authorities have failed to reverse earlier decisions to dissolve the groups, citing procedural reasons which have been strongly condemned by the groups involved in the cases.
Communication to Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe on the execution of ECtHR judgments against Greece on minority Turkish and Macedonian associations https://t.co/LwrC4dTFNe— Panayote Dimitras (@PDimitras) November 22, 2017
On a more positive note, despite the fervent protests of some members of the Christian Orthodox clergy, there have been a number of positive developments affecting the LGBTQI community in Greece in the past few months. Recent developments include the extension of rules governing cohabitation to gay couples, and a new law passed in October 2017 which enables people to determine their own gender identity.
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is protected under Greek law, and the authorities generally respect this right. Protests, strikes and large-scale gatherings are regularly held throughout the country without interference or disruption. One recent exception to this rule occurred on 3rd December 2017, when authorities detained at least 25 protesters for occupying a central square in Mytilene, the capital of the island of Lesbos. The protest was led by refugees from North Africa, who demanded that the authorities process their asylum applications and transfer to mainland Greece. Some of the the protesters were later released because they were minors. No police aggression was reported.
Freedom of expression is protected by law in Greece, both in theory and in practice; however, human rights monitoring reports indicate that media are not fully independent. Following along with the global trend, print media have decreased and many outlets have been forced to shut down due to financial constraints. For example, on 4th October 2017 the last major local daily in Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece, closed down. Many worry that this trend will further weaken the media’s ability to act as watchdog and hold local politicians accountable.
Experts believe that although 2015 reforms to the country’s Press Law were welcomed, the regulatory framework is still misused and libel cases inflict a chilling effect on the media. According to the International Press Institute’s report Dimitris Koumpias, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Unions, argued that the large numbers of libel plaintiffs “were aiming to terrorise [journalists], impose censorship and hinder a free and democratic dialogue on contemporary political issues”.
Violence against journalists is infrequent in Greece but not unknown. On 22nd October 2017, a group of around ten motorcyclists attacked the offices of the newspaper Ethnos. Two reporters received minor injuries. Ethnos is owned by Ivan Savvidis, who is also the owner of the football club PAOK. The motorcyclists are thought to be supporters of a rival football club. The assault was condemned by all political parties.
Lesvos authorities detain 25 for occupying square https://t.co/0QgAiFsOJt pic.twitter.com/M11agA2CRV— Kathimerini English Edition (@ekathimerini) December 4, 2017
While the exact number of refugees and other migrants staying on Lesbos is contested by human rights organisations and the authorities, there is general agreement that conditions of detention are horrendous. On 23rd October, 19 organisations signed an open letter to the government concerning the conditions for asylum seekers on the Aegean islands. In a recent interview with the German newspaper, Spiegel, the Greek Minister of Migration, Yiannis Mouzalas, admitted the possibility that refugees or migrants may die from the cold in the camps.
Civic Space Developments