Panayote Dimitras: Fair Trials denounces criminalisation of human rights defenders

Article by Fair Trials

On 25 November, Panayote Dimitras will appear before an investigating judge in relation to actions carried out as a human rights defender. This is the latest chapter in a decade-long judicial harassment campaign against the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Dimitras, its spokesperson. Fair Trials denounces this continued harassment and the criminalisation of solidarity, which not only has serious implications for the individuals involved but also a chilling effect, dissuading people from human rights activism and shrinking the capacity for civil society to promote reform.

Dimitras has been summoned before the judge for forming and joining a criminal organisation, facilitating entry to the Greek territory for a citizen of a third country for profit and by profession, and facilitation of illegal residence of a citizen of a third country for profit. Through these charges, the state has used its criminal justice powers to reframe legitimate actions to help save lives and protect human rights as human trafficking.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders recently responded to an article in Greece’s largest national newspaper Kathimerini linking human rights defenders to migrant trafficking into East Aegean Islands. Regarding the accusation of “facilitating the entry of third country nationals into Greek territory”, the Observatory highlighted that Dimitras had alerted numerous organisations including the Hellenic Police, the UN Refugee Agency in Greece, and the Greek migration authorities about the arrival of migrants in Kos and Farmakonisi. Dimitras clearly stated that the migrant individuals had contacted the Greek Helsinki Monitor to alert them about their presence on the islands and their wish to apply for asylum. “Kathimerini’s article portrays Mr Dimitras’ legitimate defence of human rights, and particularly, migrants’ rights, as alleged acts of human trafficking,” the Observatory states.

Fair Trials is deeply concerned about the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, which reflects the continued overreliance on prosecution and punishment to tackle social issues. Civil society plays a crucial role in ensuring the protection of migrants’ rights, particularly in the absence of safe routes for migration and adequate support systems for those in need of assistance.  Fair Trials continues to show support to Dimitras and strongly urges the Greek government to stop weaponising criminal law powers against human rights defenders and migrants.