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World Press Freedom Review
2000 World Press Freedom Review
Greek journalists and media outlets have long been wary of politicians bearing gifts. More often than not, such "gifts" are legal writs inviting the journalist or media organisation to appear in court to defend a charge of defamation. Furthermore, independent journalists in the country have repeatedly denounced the use of criminal defamation in the country to silence the media; however, so far the Greek government has been deaf to the pleas of the media organisations and has failed to heed the application of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Although paragraph 2 of article 10 of the Convention states that there are restrictions to freedom of expression by, "penalties as are prescribed by law" this is ameliorated by the statement, "that are necessary in a democratic society". It is this statement that the Greek government has failed to fully appreciate. As IPI has consistently made clear, the failure of any society to uphold the principles of press freedom means that the label "democracy" has only a veneer of legitimacy.
Elsewhere, the Greek authorities denial of entry to a Macedonian author and the arrest and harassment of a Turkish television crew also point to an unwarranted sensitivity on the part of the government. This behaviour further reinforces the view that although outwardly appearing to accept the obligations that are attendant with its membership of the European Union, Greece is having difficulties in coming to terms with the conditions necessary for a free and open society.
In another defamation case that had implications for freedom of expression, on 7 March, composer Manolis Rasoulis was given a 12-month prison sentence for defamatory statements he made in an interview to the daily newspaper Exousia on 14 April 1998. Under Greek law, the sentence can be "bought off" by paying US $4.50 for each day that the individual is sentenced to prison. Rasoulis was convicted by the three-member First Instance (Misdemeanor) Court in Athens for "aggravated defamation" of singer Yorgos Dalaras. The Court considered defamatory the statement made by Rasoulis that, "Dalaras did not give the benefit concert in Cyprus for free but was paid by "Alpha Sound". Rasoulis was tried in absentia as he left Greece on the eve of the trial "forever," as he declared. The Court also acquitted the newspaper.
On 30 May, writer Vasko Karadza, a citizen and resident of Skopje, Macedonia, was denied entrance into Greece at the Greek-Macedonian border because he was "registered [on] an inadmissible list". The refusal of entry occurred even though he held a legal visa issued by the Greek Consulate in Skopje on 29 May. Karadza had previously visited Greece in 1998, when he was invited by a state National Book Centre to participate in the Balkan Writers Laboratory.
According to the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), on 8 June, journalist Panos Lambrou of the weekly Epochi was attacked by a crowd led by members of the municipal council in Nea Kios. Police, who were apparently present at the scene, failed to intervene and assist the journalist. Lambrou was participating in a visit by 40 members of an antiracist group, members of political parties and other organisations, who came from Athens to Nea Kios. The group had assembled in an act of solidarity with the local Roma community which has been facing racist attacks by local citizens and authorities. According to the authorities, the visitors were seen as undesirable "for [exhibiting a] lack of good intentions". Without any police interference, local citizens impeded the group's movement and harassed the journalist in front of the city hall.
On 15 July, three journalists were temporarily arrested by Greek police officers while travelling on the road between Xanthi and Echinos. Those arrested were journalists Beyza Guducu and Didem Ozbahceci and cameraman Alihan Sonmez, all of whom work for TGRT-TV. They were accompanied by Ayca Guducu, Guducu's sister and the Greek driver of their rented car.
The media workers had come to Greece to prepare a documentary on Greek people who had moved to the Echinos region in 1923, following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. They had also intended to interview members of the Turkish minority living in the area. Written permission from the Greek Ministry of Mass Media had been obtained prior to their visit.
On their way to Echinos, two plainclothes policemen followed them in an unmarked vehicle. After travelling around eight kilometres, they were stopped by another official police vehicle which appeared to be waiting for them. They were told that they were not allowed to proceed any further, as they did not have the proper license for entering the restricted zone. The journalists showed the police officers their documents, which were written in both English and Greek, but the officers told them that this was insufficient to allow them to proceed.
The group were then advised over the telephone by legal defenders Mehmet Dukkanci and Aysel Zeybek of GHM's Thrace Office to return to police headquarters in Xanthi and ask for an official explanation of the incident. However, the policemen refused to let them go and illegally held them in custody for 45 minutes. During this time, a number of other policemen arrived, increasing the number of police vehicles to five and the total number of officers to 10. Policemen then checked and confiscated the passports of the media employees. After this examination, they were forced to drive to the Xanthi police station with a police escort in front of their vehicle and two unmarked police vehicles behind them.
Upon reaching the Xanthi police headquarters, the journalists' team leader, Guducu, was taken into the building and then questioned by four policemen. One of the officers said, "Why are you here? What are your purposes?" The journalist then explained the reason for the groupís visit and displayed his written permission; however, he was told that this was not enough and that the region was restricted. In addition, Guducu was told that a special permit was needed from Athens and that the process, "takes at least three days".
The journalists were finally released from custody, after being illegally held for one hour and 45 minutes. After being released, the journalists remained under surveillance by plainclothes officers throughout the rest of their stay in Xanthi. The documentary project was shelved and they returned to the Greek-Turkish border.
Evidence of the Greek authorities unwillingness to allow journalists from Macedonia and Turkey into the country continued in the late summer. On 25 August, Slavko Mangovski, editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine Makedonsko Sonce, published in Skopje, was denied entry into the country. It is thought that the Greek authorities denied Mangovski entry on the basis that he has a reputation for defending the rights of Macedonian minorities in the Balkans.
As Mangovski wrote in a complaint he filed to the Greek ombudsman, "I wanted to enter Greece through the Evzoni border crossing on the afternoon of 25 August to visit a village festival in northern Greece. I was informed by the border authorities that there was a problem with my status after the computer check and that if I wanted to wait they would send a fax to the Central Police station in Athens and verify whether I could gain entry. After a prolonged wait, I decided to return rather then spend hours waiting."
Furthermore, Mangovski went onto say, "on 28 August , I attempted entry at the border crossing of Niki in order to visit another village festival. After the routine computer check, I was advised to wait and after approximately 10 minutes was summoned to the office of what appeared to be the chief of the police and given a Notification Certificate for the Refusal of Entry specifying 'other reasons' as grounds for the refusal. At the same time, a crossed stamp was placed in my US passport, apparently in order to alert border authorities that I'm effectively banned from ever entering Greece."
Although no reason was provided, GHM believes that Mangovski (born in Bitola, Macedonia) is on a list of "undesirables".
Regarding freedom of expression, the protracted trial of Sotiris Bletsas, a member of the Society for Aroumanian Culture, also raised concern. The legal case of Bletsas has been postponed a number of times. In 1995, Bletsas was indicted for distributing a publication of the European Union's Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages (in which Sotiris Bletsas was the Greek "observer") which mentioned minority languages in Greece. The prosecution for dissemination of false information, article 191 of the penal code, was triggered by charges laid down by the deputy Eugene Haitidis of the party of New Democracy. During the trial, the prosecution's witnesses included the leader of the Panhellenic Union of Vlach Associations. They considered the reference to the Vlach language as a minority language defamatory to the Valchs. The trial was last postponed.
The Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) was a primary source for the above article.
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