Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns an attempt by Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias to silence the Athens Review of Books magazine (regarded as the local equivalent of the New York Review of Books) in retaliation for a reference to his communist past.
The issue dates back to 2010, when the magazine published a reader’s letter that not only said Kotzias used to be a member of the Communist Party of Greece but also described him as “the most extreme and fanatical, cruel and relentless communist of our generation.”
Kotzias responded by suing the magazine for 250,000 euros in libel damages. After an appeal court ruled in his favour in 2015, the case went to Greece’s supreme court, which upheld the appeal court decision although it reduced the damages to 22,000 euros.
It was on the basis of this decision that Kotzias had the bank account of the magazine’s publisher, Maria Vasilaki, frozen on 24 July.
“We regret that the Greek courts have indulged this politician by issuing an outrageous and disproportionate damages award against a magazine publisher in order to reduce her to silence,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union desk.
“We call for a reform of Greece’s press law so that defamation ceases to be treated as a crime and so that plaintiffs have to bring their defamation actions before civil courts.”
The Athens Review of Books has now referred the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled in favour of media freedom in similar cases in the past.
Greece is ranked 88th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.