The EFJ calls on the EU to take attacks on rule of law in Greece seriously
On Tuesday 6 February, 17 organisations, including the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), who actively monitor and defend press freedom, the rule of law and human rights in Europe sent a joint letter to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. In the letter, they express their deep concern about the ongoing deterioration of fundamental rights in Greece.
The organisations, including EFJ, note serious violations of Greece’s rule of law obligations under European Union (EU) treaties including a major ongoing surveillance scandal, government interference in media, abusive lawsuits against journalists and activists, and an overall unsafe working environment for journalists, including two unresolved murders of journalists (Sokratis Giolias and Giorgos Karaivaz). In addition, under the New Democracy government, the criminal justice system has been used to threaten civil society groups and activists. Registration requirements for nongovernmental groups working on migration and asylum have imposed an unreasonable burden on them.
The report ‘’Stemming The Tide of Greek Media Freedom Decline’ of last 30 January, compiled by several press freedom organisations, clearly shows that the EU needs to do more for press freedom in Greece.
One of the issues described in the letter to Von der Leyen is the spyware or Pegasus scandal and its aftermath in Greece. These events illustrate several of the persisting problems and affect the rule of law at its core: state surveillance of journalists raises urgent privacy and free expression concerns and affects the ability of the press to hold authorities to account. It interferes with media freedom and violates the confidentiality of journalistic sources, protected under the European Convention on Human Rights and EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Such surveillance has a chilling effect on journalism and its role in a democratic society.
On 22 May 2023, the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA) made a number of recommendations to Greece. Instead of addressing these recommendations, the Greek authorities have taken several steps in the past months to deliberately reduce levels of transparency and scrutiny, thereby limiting the scope for remedy to the victims of surveillance, including journalists, activists, politicians, and Members of the European Parliament concerned. Journalists whose work has been instrumental in revealing the spyware scandal in Greece are meanwhile facing multiple lawsuits by former government official Grigoris Dimitriadis. Before his resignation on 5 August 2022 – amid the revelation of the spyware scandal – Dimitriadis oversaw the functioning of Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) as general secretary to the Prime Minister’s office. These lawsuits have been widely identified by media freedom organisations as SLAPPs: intimidation attempts directed at muzzling public interest reporting.
The letter states that the organisations believe the European Commission should take stronger action against these, and other violations and attacks on fundamental rights and the rule of law in Greece should be considered. The organisations say the Commission must take action to address attacks on the rule of law in Greece and ensure the Greek authorities comply with obligations under EU law. The Commission should thoroughly and publicly examine the issues raised by civil society and make clear and concrete recommendations to the Greek authorities. Finally, it should also assess whether Greece’s violations of the rule of law and fundamental rights justify the suspension of EU funds.
The letter is signed by:
- Article 19 Europe
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
- European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
- Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
- Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)
- Hellenic League for Human Rights
- HIAS Greece
- Human Rights Watch
- Inside Story
- International Press Institute (IPI)
- OBC Transeuropa
- Refugee Support Aegean
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Transparency International EU (TI)
Read the full letter: