Fair Trials denounces the ongoing abuse of state powers against civil society in Greece
The latest in a decade-long judicial harassment campaign against civil society organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor, a court in Athens sentenced spokesperson Panayote Dimitras and colleague Andrea Gilbert to a one year suspended prison sentence for alleged defamation of a member of the clergy.
The two human rights defenders had lodged a complaint against a leading Greek bishop for antisemitic hate speech and were in turn accused of making false statements against him. This is by no means an isolated occurrence, but a long-standing pattern. Rather than properly address the many complaints brought forward by the Greek Helsinki Monitor throughout the years denouncing racism and hate speech perpetrated by high-ranking officials and other State-backed stakeholders, prosecution was used to deter civil society representatives from making such complaints, by systematically turning against them on ‘false testimony’ and defamation grounds.
This proves yet again that criminal justice systems carry inherent bias making them dangerous for those being kept from power, who will always be caught in the criminal net –regardless of putatively progressive law on the books attempting to rein in powerholders who foment hatred and violence.
Beyond the unacceptable violence of prosecution and the threat of detention* as a response to alleged ‘false statements’ targeted at one of the most influential religious leaders of the country, the conviction also has a chilling effect on the wider Greek civil society, dissuading free speech, political dissent and human rights activism, and ultimately weakening democracy and the rule of law.
The conviction is a clear abuse of the state power to prosecute, that shrinks the space for civil society. Far from being one of its kind, it comes amid public outcry at the way Greece continues to weaponise the law and legal systems alike to criminalise and punish asylum seekers and solidarity therewith. Devoid of humanity, this fills courts and prisons with people who are in dire need of support and who are instead met with contempt and violence.
Fair Trials calls on Greece to overturn the conviction of Panayote Dimitras and Andrea Gilbert, drop all other charges against the Greek Helsinki Monitor, drop all charges against asylum seekers and human rights defenders, and put all the resources gained from this divesting strategy towards community-led support systems for those in need of assistance.
*Although the sentence is suspended (meaning there is no risk of detention, unless a similar crime in the next three years), this is clearly a way to dissuade those involved from activities intrinsic to their human rights mandate. The threat of prison is in itself serious and is here weaponised to shrink the space for civil society.