Greece: Smear campaign against Panayote Dimitras for defending migrants' rights
URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY
GRE 003 / 1022 / OBS 076
Smear campaign /
At risk of criminalisation
October 18, 2022
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your intervention in the following situation in Greece.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) about the smear campaign in Greek media against Mr. Panayote Dimitras, as well as about the potential criminalisation he faces. Mr Dimitras is the GHM co-founder and spokesperson, and a member of the OMCT’s General Assembly.
On October 10, 2022, Greece’s largest national newspaper Kathimerini, published an article in both English and Greek untitled “The Turkish coast guard and the activist: Trafficking ring with Greek connections”, revealing the alleged involvement of human rights defenders in migrant trafficking into East Aegean Islands.
Using vague descriptions, including “the head of a human rights NGO” or “Greek head of the NGO”, to avoid an explicit mention of Mr Dimitras’ name, the article reveals two criminal investigations and subsequent criminal cases allegedly filed against him and “a national of a Northern European country” on charges of “facilitating the entry of third country nationals into Greek territory" under Law 4251/2014 of Greece.
On July 13 and August 24, 2021, Mr Dimitras alerted the Hellenic Police, the Coast Guard, the Greek migration authorities, the UN Refugee Agency in Greece and the Greek Ombudsman about the arrival of migrant individuals in the Greek islands of Kos and Farmakonisi. Mr Dimitras sent several emails to the above-mentioned authorities listing the names and nationality of the migrant individuals traveling on the boats who wanted to apply for asylum in Greece. In his emails, Mr Dimitras explicitly mentioned that the migrant individuals had contacted the GHM to alert the organisation about their situation, that is, their presence on the islands, as well as their wish to apply for asylum.
However, Kathimerini’s article portrays Mr Dimitras’ legitimate defence of human rights, and particularly, migrants’ rights, as alleged acts of human trafficking. According to the newspaper, Mr Dimitras and the other individual would have cooperated with the Turkish Coast Guard to bring migrant individuals to Greece, by exchanging “information on the time of departure of the journey, the itinerary and the time of their arrival on the Greek islands”. The evidence to prove the involvement of Mr Dimitras into this alleged crime, according to the article, are the above-mentioned emails. The article further mentions that a Cameroonian national and alleged human trafficker traveling on the inflatable boat on July 13, 2021, would have contacted Mr Dimitras on the same day to inform him about the details of the trip. This individual was in fact an asylum seeker who was arbitrarily arrested by the Greek authorities after the BBC published on July 13, 2021 a short report in which the Cameroonian man narrated as an eye-witness and survivor, a previous push-back of migrants in Greek waters.
The investigations into the above-mentioned alleged acts of human trafficking, according to the newspaper, were initiated by the Greek Coast Guard jointly with the National Intelligence Service and were subsequently submitted to “the relevant prosecutor’s office”. The article states that the two criminal cases are at the hands of the investigating judge in the city of Kos. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Mr Dimitras had not received any summons to a preliminary investigation nor official information about the alleged criminal investigations and cases initiated against him.
The Observatory strongly condemns the smear campaign against Mr Dimitras and all migrants’ rights defenders in Greece, as well as the ongoing denial of rights to migrants and their subsequent exposure to torture and ill-treatment in the context of collective and illegal expulsions.
Non-governmental organisations that work on migrants’ rights play an essential role to defend the human rights of people on the move in a context of systematic violations of international human rights standards by the Greek authorities, including illegal pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, as denounced in 2020 by the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT).The Greek state has consistently failed to submit the information concerning the alleged intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers and volunteers that was required by the UNCAT.
Yet, the situation of migrants’ rights defenders has been critical for years. They have consistently been targeted for their legitimate work and have faced different types of attacks, including surveillance, judicial harassment, smear campaigns, entry bans and expulsion of the country. The Greek investigative authorities often leak alleged criminal investigations initiated against migrants’ rights defenders to the media, creating a climate of fear and a chilling effect among all rights defenders, as documented by the Observatory in its 2021 report “Europe: Open Season on Solidarity”. In several of these cases the human rights defenders have not been informed nor summoned to testify.
The Observatory calls on the Greek authorities to put an end to the ongoing smear campaigns and criminalisation of NGOs and volunteers working in the country in the field of humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum-seekers. The Observatory further calls on the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights and humanitarian activities without fear of reprisals.
Please write to the authorities of Greece, urging them to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Panayote Dimitras;
ii. Put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Panayote Dimitras, as well as against all human rights defenders in Greece, and particularly, migrants’ rights defenders;
iii. Raise awareness and train administrators of justice to refrain from interpreting laws designed to fight organised crime against human rights defenders, organisations or against migrant individuals themselves;
iv. Implement General Policy Recommendation 16 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and refrain from criminalising the provision of social and humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants.
- Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Email: email@example.com
- Minister of Justice Mr. Konstantinos Tsiaras, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- General Secretary for Justice and Human Rights, Mr. Panos Alexandis Email: email@example.com
- Permanent Representative of Greece, Ms. Anna Korka, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ambassador of Greece, H.E. Eleftheria Galathianaki, Embassy of Greece in Brussels, Belgium, Email: email@example.com
- Permanent Representative of Greece, H.E. Andreas Papastavrou, Permanent Representation to the European Union (EU), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Greece's Special Envoy on Combating Antisemitism at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Efstathios Lianos Liantis, Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Greece in your respective country.
Geneva-Paris, October 18, 2022
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
- E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
- Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39
- Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18
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