Council of Europe condemns Greece on press freedom

The Council of Europe’s new report on freedom of the press condemns Greece.

Mar 6 2024

Disappointing remarks on press freedom in Greece are made by the Council of Europe in its annual assessment report, which focuses on the wiretapping case.

Condemning both Greece and the Commission is the new report on press freedom by the Council of Europe and the Platform for the Promotion of Journalism Protection and Safety of Journalists, which devotes a significant part to the cases of wiretapping against journalists and “strategic lawsuits” aimed at their economic and moral extermination (SLAPP).

This year’s report, entitled “Freedom Press in Europe: Time to Turn the Tide”, also deals with the prosecution of journalists for their exposés and their safety, with the murder of George Karaevaz as a highlight.

Regarding “Predatorgate”, the Council of Europe documents cases of proven use of the illegal spyware Predator and Pegasus against journalists in Greece, Hungary, France and Spain, noting that the surveillance affects the freedom to exercise the journalistic profession, the protection of journalistic sources and aims to intimidate journalists from covering “sensitive issues”. It notes that ‘the governments’ responses to these revelations are characterised by a lack of transparency’.

“Hungary and Greece are the two countries to which recommendations were made by the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the use of spyware (PEGA), which were also ratified by the plenary on 15 June 2023″, he adds, calling on member states to establish a complete ban on the sale and export of such software (it is recalled that Greece has at least one officially confirmed export) and a detailed legal framework for its use, compatible with European human rights protection rules

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The report also makes specific reference to the case of the surveillance of the journalist Thanasis Koukakis. “In Greece, the criminal investigations into the use of spyware to infect the phone of Thanasis Koukakis and other journalists – the so-called “Predatorgate” – have not clarified the landscape nor provided guarantees that their surveillance was necessary, legal and proportionate. Moreover, in October 2023, the Greek authorities were accused of undermining the relevant investigation by the Independent Authority for the Safeguarding of Communications Integrity (IAEA). The judicial authorities also summoned a former and a current member of the ADAE Board (referring to Katerina Papanikolaou and Stefanos Grigazalis) as suspects for leaking details of the investigation to Koukakis.” The report of the judicial course of the case concludes by recalling the order of the sudden transfer of the investigation to the prosecutor of the Supreme Court.

Finally, the Council of Europe also seems unconvinced by the legislative “ban” on spyware introduced by the government in December 2022. It underlines that the “legal issues surrounding the surveillance of journalists remain murky” while, at the same time, no one has been punished for the spying that has already been reported. He also points out that it remains to be seen in practice whether Greece will implement the recommendations made to it on press protection.

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