Trial of Greek journalist a blow to freedom of speech

The Greek authorities has a duty to uphold the right to freedom of speech Amnesty International warned today, following the prosecution of Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis.

The organisation’s comments came as Vaxevanis stood trial in Athens for breach of privacy, after publishing the names of 2,000 Greeks alleged to have HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland. Vaxevanis had called for investigations into possible tax evasion.

The investigative journalist and editor was arrested last Sunday after he published the list, which included the names of Greek public political and business figures, in the magazine Hot Doc, where he is an editor.

Marek Marczyński, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, said:

"It is deeply troubling that Vaxevanis is facing criminal charges, and possibly jail time, for disclosing information in the public interest.

“This step increases the risk that other journalists will censor themselves and refrain from legitimate criticism of the government to avoid prosecution. This chilling effect would seriously undermine freedom of expression – a central purpose of which is to foster informed public debate about the functioning of government.

“The Greek authorities must clearly demonstrate why this severe sanction is necessary and proportionate in this case. The right to privacy should not be used to silence criticism of the government.”

The names published by Vaxevanis are believed to be those contained in the so-called “Lagarde List” that was given in 2010 to the Greek Minister of Finance by the current head of the IMF and then-French minister for Finance, Christine Lagarde.

The list, which allegedly contains the names of prominent people in Greece who are suspected of using the accounts to evade taxes, has sparked fierce political debate in the country as it struggles with the imposition of severe austerity measures.

Vaxevanis was charged with a misdemeanour for breach of the law on the protection of personal data and, if found guilty, could face a fine and a prison sentence, reportedly of up to two years.

Journalists suspended

Vaxevanis’ trial comes amid rising concerns over the suspension of journalists Marilena Kassimi and Christos Arvanitis as presenters of a morning magazine programme on the State national TV channel NET-TV.

The pair were suspended after critically debating the stance of Nikolaos Dendias, the Minister of Citizens’ Protection, in relation to allegations that police had beaten and tortured 15 anti-fascist protestors. The presenters had also suggested that police officers should be investigated and charged with a felony, where appropriate.

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