Greece : RSF is concerned about the possible conviction of a French-Canadian reporter accused of issuing a false bomb alert
The French-Canadian journalist Romain Chauvet is accused of having issued a false bomb alert concerning a flight arriving from Israel with Canadian citizens on board. Covering the plane’s arrival from the airport, he was arrested and is due to appear in court on October 26. RSF calls on the justice system to take into account the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.
Update on 26 October 2023: Accused of making a false bomb alert, Romain Chauvet has been sentenced by an Athens court to a six-month suspended prison sentence for “disseminating false information”. RSF is shocked by the conviction of a journalist in a word-against-word procedure without solid evidence which should have benefitted the accused. The organisation will continue to support him, while awaiting the appeal decision. Albeit not targeting a journalistic publication, the verdict potentially represents a dangerous precedent in the application of the law against fake news. For the first time in several years, this legislation has been used to convict a journalist.
An Athens-based freelance reporter for Radio Canada, the French TV news channel BFMTV and the news site Courrier des Balkans, Romain Chauvet is facing a possible three-year suspended prison sentence on a charge of “disseminating false information” under article 191 of the Greek Penal Code.
When Romain Chauvet went to Athens international airport on October 12 to cover the arrival of a Canadian flight evacuating Canadian citizens from Israel, because of the war in the Middle East, he was arrested for allegedly saying there was a bomb aboard the plane. He was held in police custody for 24 hours. Thereafter, on the only basis of police sources, it was widely reported in the media that the journalist “wanted to test the airport security systems”.
However, the accusation against the journalist seems to be based solely on the testimony of a counter agent at the airport. Romain Chauvet explained to RSF that the police told him that she had accused him of saying there was a bomb aboard the plane. The reporter denied the allegation, and said that he was just trying to find out from her when the plane was exactly due to arrive. He had a permit from the airport press office allowing him to film in the airport.
“We urge the Greek justice system to take into account the flimsiness of the evidence against Romain Chauvet in this case that does not hold up. Why would a journalist who had reported his presence to the airport authorities issue a false bomb alert, and then remain in the airport waiting to be arrested? While the police rushed to tell the media he was guilty, RSF calls on the Greek justice system to demonstrate independence and impartiality.
Just one hour after arresting Romain Chauvet, the police told the media that a “journalist has confessed he wanted to test the airport security systems”. A pro-government media outlet published the first article based on the police claim, without any verification. The story then went viral in the Greek media, in both Greek and English-language outlets.
During his interrogation by the police, the journalist was asked to name the source who had told him the number of the flight coming from Israel, although this information had been published in the Canadian media and was available on FlightRadar24, a live flight tracking application.
When questioned by RSF about the evidence against Romain Chauvet, the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection, which is responsible for law enforcement, simply responded that his arrest was “the result of special investigative operations carried out by the airport police authorities (analysis of visual material from security cameras), which made it possible to identify him”.
Greece is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index – the lowest ranking of any European Union country.