Panayote Dimitras: Fair Trials denounces continuing harassment of human rights defenders

Article by Fair Trials

Last week saw the latest chapter in a decade-long judicial harassment campaign against the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Panayote Dimitras, its spokesperson. Greece’s Anti-Money Laundering Authority reportedly ordered the freezing of all Dimitras’ assets which in large part include funding received from the European Union to support of his work as a human rights defender. In addition, on 16 June Panayote Dimitras and his colleague Andrea Gilbert will appear before an appeals court in relation to their earlier conviction for issuing a ‘false accusation’ against a member of the clergy in Greece.

According to the media reports Anti-Money Laundering authority’s investigation, the funding he received, mainly from the EU, to support human rights causes was used for other purposes than those claimed. Dimitras has not been served with any report or notified of any action taken regarding his assets by the anti-money laundering authority itself prior to receiving this information through media. In a statement issued on 31 May 2023, Dimitras stated that he is not aware of any such action. He also stated that the only European Union funding he receives designated for the fight against hate speech and is used for that purpose.

On 16 June Panayote Dimitras and Andrea Gilbert will also be facing an appeals court to review a previous conviction in a false accusation case. 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. They were convicted to a one-year suspended prison sentence. This follows a pattern of misuse of state power to stifle civil society. 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 is used to deter civil society representatives from making such complaints, by systematically turning against them on ‘false testimony’ and defamation grounds.

Fair Trials has previously denounced the use of criminal justice powers to criminalize legitimate activities of human rights defenders in Greece and the harassment of Panayote Dimitras’ due to his work on racism and discrimination and defending the rights of migrants. It has also been repeatedly denounced by both the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe and the UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders and on the Human Rights of Migrants.

Fair Trials continues to be deeply concerned about the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. Continued harassment and the criminalisation of human rights defenders not only has serious implications for the individuals involved but also has a chilling effect on civil society, dissuading people from human rights activism and shrinking the capacity for civil society to promote necessary reform. States must stop using criminal prosecution and punishment to tackle social issues and attempt to prevent civil society from voicing legitimate concerns.

Fair Trials continues to show support to Dimitras and Gilbert and strongly urges the Greek government to stop weaponizing criminal law powers against human rights defenders.