University protests against riot police deployment continue, Predator-gate scandal raises further concerns about surveillance

University protests against riot police deployment continue,  Predator-gate scandal raises further concerns about surveillance
(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis via Gallo Images).

Introduction

In late July 2022, it was revealed that the Greek secret service had attempted to bug the phone of Greek socialist leader and MEP Nikos Androulakis (President of centre-left, the third largest opposition party) with the illegal spyware Predator. Within days, Androulakis found out that the National Intelligence Service (EYP) had wiretapped his phone via his mobile provider. After the revelations Panagiotis Kontoleon, the leader of EYP, and Grigoris Dimitriadis, the nephew of the prime minister and the secretary general of the prime minister's office to which the EYP reports, resigned. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (New Democracy) said that he was unaware of Androulakis’ phone being bugged. According to Politico, before the spying revelations surfaced, New Democracy and Pasok were seen as heading toward forming a centrist coalition government after the upcoming elections.

Separately, during August 2022, Athens had been repeatedly accused of illegally pushing back refugees to Turkey. In late July 2022, on the occasion of a visit to Greece, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for an investigation into pushbacks at EU borders.

Peaceful Assembly

In July 2022, Athens conservative mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, the nephew of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, urged the ministers of interior and citizens’ protection, Makis Voridis and Takis Theodorikakos, to grant the capital’s municipality the right to license any demonstration or open-air gathering. Bakoyannis believes that the city centre of Athens suffers from disruption, vandalism and rubbish left behind as a result of protests.

Important protests in the reporting period included:

  • In September 2022, university students and staff protested several times in Athens against the deployment of police forces, the so-called University Institutions Protection Teams (OPPI) on university campuses. Protests and marches were also heldin Thessaloniki against the deployment of riot police at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki campus. Greece has a history of campus uprisings and radical student movements. The right-wing New Democracy government’s move to not only allow police to enter the campuses (this was prohibited before 2019) but to deploy police forces within the campus is perceived by the left parties and movements of the Greek political spectrum as a move that aims to thwart freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and prevent mobilisation against the government’s policies. Left-wing student organisations called on the government to redirect the funding meant to ensure police presence and new cameras and turnstiles inside campuses to cover the real needs of students and build up better infrastructure. During these protests, several protesters were detained and it is reported that police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse protesters.
  • On 23rd September 2022, members of the Iranian community and others protested outside the Iranian embassy, following the global solidarity protests over the death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini while in police custody. It is reported that scuffles broke out between police and protesters.
  • On 28th July 2022, hundreds protested in Athens in support of Yiannis Michailidis, a jailed anarchist, after an appeal court in Athens rejected his request for early release from prison. A group of protesters clashed with the police. According to local media reports, police used stun grenades, tear gas and water cannon to break up the protest. 13 arrests were made. Michilidis has been on hunger strike since May 2022, and according to his doctor, “his condition has reached a perilous point”. Accordingly, he has been transferred from prison to hospital. The anarchist is serving a 20-year jail sentence. He was found guilty in 2014 of participating in the attempted murder of police officers in 2011, double robbery in 2013, and possession of ammunition. In June 2019, he escaped from prison but was re-arrested. The appeals court rejected his demand for parole on grounds of his attempted escape in 2019. On 29th July 2022, Michailidis suspended his protest.
  • Earlier,on 15th June 2022, hundreds of anti-fascist protesters demonstrated in Athens calling for tough sentences to be given to members of the former neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn on the occasion of their appeal trial. In 2020, the former leaders of the party were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for murdering anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013 and for beating up migrants and political opponents. The trial was interrupted by a smoke bomb threat and was adjourned until 6th July 2022. The Golden Dawn was the third-largest party in Greece after the country’s financial crisis in 2010.

Expression

State of media freedom, new legislation in the pipeline

In July 2022, the European Commission released its annual Rule of Law report. The country chapter on Greece called attention to the potential political influence on public media, the deteriorating professional environment and rising violence against media workers. The concerns echo the concerns journalists and media rights groups have been raising for the past few years. Greece is currently the lowest-ranked EU member state on the Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) annual World Press Freedom index.

As reported by Politico, as of September 2022, a new controversial regulation is currently in public consultation. The new legislation would create a committee to monitor whether the principles of journalistic ethics and conduct have been observed. If the committee finds that they were not, they can remove the given media organisation from the registry and exclude it from state funding for two years. As state funding is one of the most important sources of income for Greek media, the introduction of this legislation would likely lead to further heavy self-censorship. Greece already has a “fake news” law according to which publishing reports “capable of causing concern or fear to the public or undermining public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defence capacity or public health” may be punishable with five years in prison.

Abusive legal proceedings against journalist spied on with Predator

On 5th August 2022, the former secretary general of the prime minister's office and nephew of the prime minister, Grigoris Dimitriadis launched abusive legal proceedings against journalists Thanasis Koukakis, Nikolas Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos, as well as against the website Reporters United and the newspaper EfSyn.

According to Maja Sever, President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the complaints filed are “only intended to intimidate the press and prevent the exposure of the illegal and undemocratic practices of those in power in Greece.”

As previously reportedon the CIVICUS Monitor, Koukakis, who investigated alleged money laundering and corruption in the banking sector, has been spied on with illegal Predator spyware. The National Intelligence Service (EYP) first denied its involvement.

Earlier on 29th July 2022, the former director of EYP, Panagiotis Kontoleon, admitted to a parliamentary committee that EYP had spied on Koukakis from 15th May to 12th August 2020. As EFJ reports, it was later learned that Koukakis had also been monitored by the Predator spyware a year later, from 12th July to 24th September 2021. EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez called the obstruction of the work of journalists a crime against democracy:

We call on the Greek judicial authorities to activate judicial investigations into private and public actors, including those close to the Prime Minister, who use Predator software to spy on journalists. We call on them to shed light on the illegal tapping of journalists by the intelligence services and to identify and convict those responsible. Journalism is not a crime, but obstructing the work of journalists is a crime against democracy.”

Arrest warrant against journalist revealing wiretapping

The Supreme Court’s Prosecutor issued an arrest warrant against journalist Petros Kousoulos for publishing confidential documents on the national intelligence service’s surveillance of two former officials in 2016. Kousoulos said that for him it was “unthinkable that in 2022, in a well-organised country like Greece, a journalist would be prosecuted for simply doing his job.

“I was surprised at the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office, which instead of shedding light on the case and finding the real culprits, issued a warrant for my arrest. All this is a violation of the freedom of the press”- Journalist Petros Kousoulos.
“The attempted criminalisation of journalism aims at intimidating those journalists who in future make similar revelations about the wiretapping scandal. The journalist’s job is to publicise and inform public opinion,” - Vangelis Triantis, a legal editor at the Greek media outlet Documento, told BIRN.

Arson attack on Real News and Real FM

On 13th July 2022, the office of news outlet Real News and radio Real FM was set on fire. Following the explosion of gas canisters in the exterior stairwell, employees working in the building needed to be evacuated. Several people were hospitalised with respiratory problems. According to media reports, it took two hours for 18 firefighters to put out the fire.

The Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (JUADN) condemned the attack on press freedom and called for an investigation.

When the media is set on fire, when the state cannot solve crimes against journalists and the media and bring perpetrators to justice, when groups aiming to intimidate, silence or control the media act without restraint, democracy is at risk.”

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) urged the Greek government to strengthen the protection and safety of journalists.

Positive court ruling: Novartis scandal

On 30th June 2022, the Judicial Council of the Supreme Court acquitted four journalists who unveiled the Novartis pharmaceutical scandal,finding that the allegations against them were baseless. The four journalists, Kostas Vaxevanis, an investigative journalist of Documento, Ioanna Papadakou, a former investigative journalist at To Vima, Ioannis Filippakis, publisher of Dimokratia, and Alexandros Tarkas, reporter at Dimokratia, were facing criminal charges, which included alleged membership of a criminal organisation and three accounts of conspiracy. They each faced a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

As Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) reports, “these criminal charges were among the most serious levied against members of the press anywhere in the EU at that time.” The partner organisations of the MFRR expressed concern at “the pressure faced by the journalists during the proceedings. Comments made by certain politicians and in particular Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who referred to some of the journalists as a “gang” in parliament – were deeply regrettable.”

Petsa list

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Greek government was heavily criticised for its lack of transparency in the allocation of its anti-COVID-19 promotional funds in early 2020. Following mounting pressure, the government released a list of all the media that received the funding (the so-called “Petsa list”). The list showed that critical media received less than one percent of the total spending and neutral media received far less than pro-government outlets.

However, the list did not contain all the information human rights watchdogs requested.

In early 2020, Greek NGO Vouliwatch submitted requests to the government’s General Secretariat for Information and Communication (GGEE) for information about which media were included, how much each received, and the criteria used by Initiative Media, the company hired to administer the project. GGEE repeatedly rejected the requests. Vouliwatch appealed to the National Transparency Authority (NTA), which rules on such cases. However, NTA ruled that the documents can be kept secret. The watchdog appealed to the courts, and although in January 2022 the Athens Administrative Court of Appeal recognised Vouliwatch’s right to receive the documents requested, the NTA informed Vouliwatch that despite the court decision, it does not recognise Vouliwatch’s legitimate interest in receiving the documents and will not compel GGEE to release them.