Greek police uses brutal violence and arbitrary bans to obstruct reporting on the refugee crisis

In order to avoid their contacts with asylum seekers, the police has limited the movement of journalists on Lesbos, going as far as to very violently apprehend the correspondent of the German daily Die Welt. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a strategic restriction of press freedom and right to information, which must be lifted immediately.

When Iason Athanasiadis, the correspondent of the German daily Die Welt, was leaving a refugee settlement in Lesbos on September 11 after an earlier solidarity march, he suddenly saw the police aggressively apprehending several Greeks. He identified himself as a journalist and started talking to one of the arrested men. However, he became himself a target of police violence. Claiming that he did not respect a police order, the officers decided to handcuff him. Three or four of them threw him to the ground and pressed on his body with their knees so hard that he shouted in pain. He was released only after an hour-long detention.

Iason Athanasiadis was one of the reporters covering the humanitarian crisis caused by the fire in the Moria Refugee Camp which left more than 11,000 people without a shelter on the morning September 9. Ever since, the Greek police have alternated between permits and bans for media professionals wishing to enter the Moria Camp or a nearby temporary refugee site. The restrictions have been experienced for example by Isabel Schayani of the German public television ARD, freelance journalist Franziska Grillmeier, Maria Malagardis of the French daily Libération, Mortaza Behboudi of the Franco-German television ARTE, Marina Rafenberg, the correspondent of several French media and Katy Fallon working for English-language media. While on some occasions the officers reasoned by the COVID-19, a military operation or just orders, on others they were requesting special accreditations as RSF has learned. 

“The strategy of the Greek authorities is clear: discourage journalists from reporting on how they manage the refugee crisis on Lesbos, even at the cost of police violence. They not only violate press freedom, but also deny the right to information to the local and international public as it discusses helping Greece. The authorities must immediately allow journalists to access the refugee sites,” said Pavol Szalai, Head of RSF’s EU/Balkans Desk. The arbitrariness and uncertain working conditions of journalists in Lesbos have been condemned by an open letter to the Greek authorities signed on September 16 by seven press freedom organisations including RSF. 

Since 2017 at least, the Greek police has complicated media reporting from Lesbos, prosecuted some journalists and failed to protect others against attacks by anti-immigrant residents.

Greece is ranked 65th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 22.09.2020