December 11, 2014 - Updated on January 20, 2016

RWB condemns impunity for police violence against journalists

Reporters Without Borders has written to Greek public order and citizen protection minister Vassilis Kikilias deploring the fact that the investigations into police attacks in 2011 and 2012 on journalists Manolis Kypraios and Marios Lolos were closed without any action being taken. Cases of police violence against journalists and arrests of journalists are on the increase, yet investigations into police abuses nearly always end up being shelved.
Lolos had to be hospitalized after being clubbed by a member of the MAT riot police near Syntagma Square in Athens on 5 April 2012. The police conducted an internal investigation but took no action although photos showed a helmeted police officer beating Lolos over the head. Kypraios has been left disabled for life by the stun grenade that was thrown at him during a demonstration in Athens on 15 June 2011. The investigation into this incident was also closed without any outcome. The photos of a MAT police officer beating photographer Tatiana Bolari during a demonstration on 5 October 2011 went around the world. The policeman was given a suspended sentence of eight months in prison on a charge of aggravated assault but was never sanctioned for failing in his duty as a police officer. When Mariniki Alevizopoulou and Avgoustinos Zenakos, two journalists with the magazine Unfollow, asked the police about the decisions to close these investigations without taking any action, a spokesman said: “If the case was closed, it was only after no evidence emerged to prove that the police officers had not done their duty.” So, does this mean that police violence against journalists is normal and justified? It was only when reading this article in last week’s issue of Unfollow that the victims learned that their cases had been closed. No judge had deemed it necessary to tell them. This is disgraceful, and shows how little importance is attributed to journalists’ safety although their work, including their coverage of protests, plays a vital role in the current Greek context. Freedom of information has declined steadily in Greece since the 2008 financial crisis – a decline reflected in the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. In 2008, Greece was ranked 31st. In 2014, it was ranked 99th, after falling 68 places over six years. It is now second from last in the European Union. Already hit economically by the withdrawal of investors from the media sector, journalists are also targeted by both sides during demonstrations. The protesters regard them as representatives of a system they no longer want. And the police attack protesters and journalists alike when dispersing protests. These problems are compounded by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which has no compunction about using violence in an attempt to silence the journalists who cover its excesses. Unjustified violence and arbitrary arrest While protester violence against journalists is declining, the police continue to attack them, and the impunity they enjoy encourages this state of affairs. In one recent example, two reporters and a photographer were targeted by police while covered a demonstration on 17 November marking the anniversary of a student uprising against the military dictatorship. During clashes between police and protesters, a police officer hit photographer Alexia Tsagari and pulled her hair, DELTA motorcycle police harassed reporter Antonis Diniakos and TV reporter Irini Androulaki was hit by a police flashball and was insulted by a policeman. The police say they have launched an internal investigation into these incidents. Despina Kontaraki, a journalist with the Eleftheros Typos newspaper, was arrested on 6 April and was held for several hours as a result of a libel action by the right-wing Independent Greeks party parliamentarian Rachil Makri over an article by Kontaraki and fellow reporter Giorgos Kouvaras accusing Makri of supporting Golden Dawn. The European Federation of Journalists condemned her arrest as an attempt to intimidate journalists. ‘‘The arrest is utterly unacceptable and baseless,’’ EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregård said. ‘‘It has only shown the worrying fact that Greek politicians are blatantly abusing their power and privilege to silence critical voices in their own advantages.’’ In the latest case, Avgi reporter Irini Lazaridou was arrested during a demonstration on 7 December to mark the sixth anniversary of teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos’ fatal shooting by a policeman. She said that, despite showing her press card, she was taken to Omonia police station and was held for several hours. The Greek press photographers’ association reported that police also arrested one of its members, Giorgos Nikolaidis, during the demonstration. Demonstrators harassed two other journalists. Greece is ranked 99th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. (photo : Greek photojournalists stage a protest outside the Ministry of Citizen's Protection on April 6, 2012, after a photographer sustained a serious head injury from a police truncheon while covering an anti-austerity protest, in another case of police brutality against media.)