The target of the far-right threats was Stratis Balaskas, a journalist based in the island’s port city, Mytilene, who specializes in covering refugee-related stories for Greece’s state-owned news agency, ANA-MPA, and for a local news website, Lesvosnews.net.
Balaskas said three supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn threatened him and insulted him on the street in Mytilene on 12 August. Another man verbally attacked him three days later, while he was covering a fire in the city’s Tsamakia park. The next day, 16 August, one of his articles was circulated on far-right social media pages, triggering a coordinated online campaign of harassment that included death threats and calls for Balaskas to be given the “punishment he deserves.”
Balaskas filed a complaint about the intimidation attempts, which are increasingly being used by Golden Dawn members and other far-right activists who hate refugees and target reporters covering the migrant crisis. “I expose the false stories they spread about the immigrants and that’s what they don’t accept,” Balaskas said. It was not isolated case. Several journalists were physically attacked on the island in May while covering a demonstration in support of migrants.
As a result of Balaskas’ complaint, the authorities said they intended to prosecute a total of 15 people including an army officer and three policemen, one of whom was previously arrested for hitting an Albanian migrant and then released after he apologized.
“The arrests of several of the people responsible for these coordinated attacks, all members of a far-right group, is a positive sign,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk.“We urge the Greek authorities to send a strong signal to all the extremist and racist groups that target journalists for covering a reality that annoys them. Verbal and online attacks of this kind must be punished in order to put a stop to them and, above all, to deter any attempt to pass from words to action.”
Greece is ranked 74th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.