[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”107234″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]EU leaders from Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are urged to address the ongoing impunity in the case of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia
To: Mr Emmanuel Macron, President of France; Mr Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy; Mr Nicos Anastasiades, President of Cyprus; Mr Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece; Mr António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal; and Mr Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain.
13 June 2019
Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in Malta by a car bomb on 16 October 2017. There is no process inquiring into the circumstances of the murder. We, the undersigned organisations, haveadvocated extensively for justice in the case and are closely monitoring the process on the ground.
Areport on the assassination, titled “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”, by the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Pieter Omtzigt, was adopted by the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee meeting in Paris on 29 May 2019.
The report highlights a series of concerns relating to theinvestigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and Malta is requested to establish an independent and impartial public inquiry within three months to determine whether the state could have prevented the assassination – a call we have made repeatedly. The Committee noted fundamental weaknesses in Malta’s system of democratic checks and balances, seriously undermining the rule of law. This is an alarming situation, particularly in a Council of Europe and European Union member state. The Maltese authorities are called upon to take steps to end the prevailing climate of impunity.
So far, the Maltese government has blocked a public inquiry, leaving journalists continuing to work in Malta at great risk and forcing Galizia’s family to litigate the Prime Minister’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the assassination. Only a public inquiry can determine how best to guarantee the safety of journalists and prevent future attacks. TheVenice Commission Opinion on Malta states Malta’s positive obligations in relation to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. A public inquiry is the only process that can effectively address these positive obligations. The call for a public inquiry is supported by a resolution by the European Parliament which requests the Maltese government to launch a public inquiry, and calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to initiate an independent international public inquiry into the murder and the alleged cases of corruption, financial crimes, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion reported by the journalist.
By signing the Sibiu Declaration, you have pledged to safeguard Europe’s democratic values and the rule of law. We therefore urge you to address the matter of safety of journalists and ongoing impunity in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia in your meeting with Prime Minister Muscat in Valletta on 14 June.
Thank you for your attention.
Dr Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19
Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy, Index on Censorship
Ravi R. Prasad, Director of Advocacy, International Press Institute (IPI)
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1560437482746-8cffafe9-48c7-1″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Politis journalists protest their gagging: Sotiris Paroutis, Dionisis Dionisiou and Manolis Kalatzis
In January 2018 a Cypriot court issued an injunction forbidding daily newspaper Politis from publishing emails that were hacked from the personal account of a suspended state attorney, Eleni Loizidou, news website newsit.com.cy reported.
Politis had re-published a number of emails Loizidou had sent from a Gmail account that had been made public by a Russian website. The emails suggested that Loizidou, who was formerly head of extradition requests, may have aided Moscow in the extradition cases of Russian nationals.
Loizidou requested an injunction against the newspaper, preventing it from publishing or using content from the hacked personal account she had used to communicate with the Russian judicial services. The ban is valid until the lawsuit against the newspaper is heard or until another court order is issued.
Loizidou has also filed a lawsuit against Politis seeking between €500,000 and €2 million in damages. The suit claims the newspaper violated her right to privacy and the law on the protection of personal data.
Police officers also demanded that Phileleftheros newspaper remove any articles that reported on the Loizidou case.
The head of Cyprus’ Union of Journalists, George Frangos, defended the newspapers and said: “In no case should the letter of the law be above the spirit of the law which is primarily to serve the common good and public interest.”
In February 2018, the Cypriot press reported that the police have been questioning journalists over the leaked emails. The attorney general, in his statements to the Cyprus News Agency on 4 January 2018, said that: “In a written letter dated 1 December 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation requested that a criminal investigation is carried out on the interception of electronic data concerning the Russian Public Prosecutor’s Office.”
Five journalists from the newspaper Politis, two journalists from the newspaper Phileleftheros, two journalists from the newspaper Kathimerini, two journalists from the Sigma TV and a journalist from the newspaper Alithia were summoned to question.
The first journalist who was called in was Manolis Kalatzis from Politis. “The investigators informed me of my rights and announced to me that I am suspicious of criminal offences,” Kalatzis told Mapping Media Freedom adding that he was asked to recognise his articles and reveal his sources.
“It was a clear attempt at gagging the press, as there were the civil lawsuits against journalists claiming compensations of millions of euros. At the same time, Loizidou remains in her post and is being audited only for offences punishable by reprimand,” Kalatzis said.
The Cypriot journalists’ union condemned that the questioning of journalists “constitute a hindrance to the freedom of expression and the media freedom”.
“Now, police are summoning journalists one after the other and question them as suspects of violating the law because in their articles they use one or two words or phrases already made public like ‘Dear Vladimir’ or ‘Really missed you’,” Philelftheros’ editor-in-chief, Aristos Michaelides, wrote in a front-page op-ed accusing the police of abusing their power.
“The authorities must stop harassing journalists and treating them as if they are criminals,” said the IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “We stand in solidarity with all those seeking to expose the truth.”
OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir also expressed concern about the court decision in Cyprus as well as the questioning by the police of several journalists of the daily newspapers Politis and Phileleftheros. “It is essential that journalists be free to report on issues of public importance,” Désir said after sending a letter to Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, referring to media reports about leaked emails between state attorney Eleni Loizidou and Russian officials. Désir also stressed that journalists should not be questioned by the police about their work.
Moreover, on 19 March, six Cypriot MEPs sent a written question to the European Commission, asking whether the Commission is aware that “journalists are being called in for questioning by the police authorities in Cyprus under suspicion of conspiring to commit an offence” and whether it considers that “there may be problems with freedom of the press and the freedom of expression of journalists in Cyprus”.
On the 3 April, Cyprus’ attorney-general decided not to prosecute journalists for the leaked emails. In an announcement from the Legal Service, it is noted inter alia that the decision was taken because it was concluded that the prosecution of journalists is not in the public interest.
It added that the case raised two kinds of public interest — one was safeguarding personal communications and the other was the public’s right to be informed about issues of public interest.
“Weighing the two…and after taking into account the relevant national and European case law, as well as more general legal principles, the attorney-general judged it would not serve the public interest if he launched a criminal prosecution,” the statement said. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1525771631211-2562d882-930f-2″ taxonomies=”6833″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Each week, Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project verifies threats, violations and limitations faced by the media throughout the European Union and neighbouring countries. Here are five recent reports that give us cause for concern.
The right-wing National Front (FN) party of France held its summer conference in Fréjus earlier this month. On 16 September the party refused to allow access to the independent media website Mediapart and the Quotidien television programme. The party has denied access to Mediapart in the past due to its critical reporting on the party.
Journalists’ societies of Radio France, le Monde, le Figaro, Libération, le Parisien, les Echos, Courrier International, AEF, France 2, France 3, TF1, Itélé/Canal+ denounced the ban and said they hoped it would not happen again. The FN has refused to grant access to journalists in the past despite this being against the law.
Regardless of the party’s attempt to keep Mediapart from the summer conference, the website claims they hired a freelance writer to cover the event.
Vladimir Romensky was removed by police from a Russian polling station on 18 September. Romensky is a reporter for the independent television channel Dozhd and was sent to the polling station to investigate potential voter fraud. He was responding to rumors that ballot stuffing had occurred at the site.
When Romensky attempted to enter he was approached by a man who refused to introduce himself and did not allow Romensky or his camera crew to access the polling station. A nearby police officer then intervened and demanded to see Romensky’s documents. Despite having all the necessary documents for his camera crew and himself, the police officer called armed guards and pushed the crew out of the station.
Dmitry Korotkov, a reporter for the Russian news site Fontanka, was arrested in St Petersburg on 18 September while investigating voter fraud.
Korotkov was looking into information about carousel voting, which occurs when an organised group of voters travels to different voting districts to repeatedly vote, even though they are not registered in that district. Fontanka discovered that voters were given four ballots at a certain polling station after revealing a special stamp on their passports to polling officials.
Korotkov was able to obtain the passport stamp and received four ballots at the designated polling station even though he was not registered in the specific district. In response, the polling official offered for him to sign as another voter.
Korotkov revealed to the polling official who he was and the fraud that was occurring. The official promised to investigate the situation and called the police, however Korotkov was detained instead. They charged him with illegally obtaining ballot papers.
At around 2am on 19 September, crime reporter Dina Kleanthous’ car was set on fire by an unknown arsonist.
Kleanthous is a reporter for the online news site Reporter Online. She believes the act is not personal, but a response to her work. Kleanthous had recently been receiving threats regarding a story she was covering.
Hilal Mammadov, the editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Tolyshi Sado, was summoned by police on 19 September. The newspaper covers the ethnic minority of Talysh in Azerbaijan.
Mammadov is a former political prisoner, sentenced to five years in prison in 2013 on spurious charges of “illegal selling of drugs”, “high treason”, and “incitement to national, racial, social, and religious hatred and hostility”. Mammadov was pardoned in March 2016.
After being summoned on 19 September, Mammadov claims the police asked him whether he was a part of a “secret opposition“ and he was forced to give the names of his family to the officials.
Kostas Vaxevanis won the 2013 Index on Censorship Journalism award for his investigative journalism through his work on the magazine Hot Doc. On 30 March 2015 he was convicted of criminal defamation for his reporting on banking irregularities in Greece and given a 26 month suspended sentence.
The justice system of Greece is often compared to a very thin fishing net, which catches the small fish, but which allows the bigger, stronger fish to break free.
It is a widely-held belief in Greece that there is a lack of justice administered by the country’s judicial system, and this belief is confirmed if one looks at recent history.
None of the major scandals of recent years — ranging from that of the Athens Stock Exchange to the scandal involving judges who conspired in the rigging of court cases — resulted in any guilty verdicts.
A few days ago, the Greek justice system sentenced former finance minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou to a mere 12 months’ imprisonment for his removal of names from the so-called Lagarde List of alleged Greek tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts, while he was not convicted for the most serious charges against him, namely, his inaction with regard to the individuals named on the list. However, this paradoxical situation, in which the Greek justice system charged and attempted to prosecute me on two occasions over the publication of the Lagarde List but did not sentence the government minister who concealed it, does not stop here. At the same time that a Greek court issued a paltry 12 month prison sentence to Papakonstantinou, a different court sentenced me to a 26 month suspended sentence, following charges that were filed against me by one of Greece’s major oligarchs, businessman Andreas Vgenopoulos.
Investigative reports which were publicised in the magazine which I publish, Hot Doc, revealed that Andreas Vgenopoulos had purchased the Cyprus-based Marfin Bank, which he then utilized in order to provide capitalization to other business interests of his and to those of his fellow oligarchs. According to the Cypriot government, Vgenpoulos’ actions with Marfin Bank was one of the main factors which resulted in the collapse of the country’s economy.
All of the reports which were published in Hot Doc were derived form official documents from the parliament of Cyprus, from Cypriot prosecutors, from Greek courts, and from the central banks of Greece and Cyprus. On the basis of documentation, anti-corruption prosecutors were obliged to launch an investigation regarding the financial activities of Vgenopoulos.
Even though this investigation is still in progress, along with a parallel investigation being conducted by Cypriot authorities, who have also issued a warrant for the freezing of Vgenopoulos’ assets totaling €2.4 billion, I was tried and sentenced by a Greek court on charges of libel. In court, I provided documentation from the vice prosecutor of the Greek Court of Appeals, who was requesting that Greek authorities investigate Vgenopoulos on allegations of bribery and money laundering based on evidence held by Cypriot authorities. Despite this, I was found guilty and issued a sentence that is greater than that issued by the Greek judicial system to a former Greek government minister, Giorgos Papakonstantinou.
In contrast to the standards of European law and European court decisions, which have made it clear that journalists are obligated to maintain a critical stance and, often, a strong and aggressive tone towards public figures, the Greek court which tried me concocted “malicious intent” on my part. Indeed, it is notable that the prosecutor, who was the same individual which had requested that I be sentenced for my revelation of the Lagarde List, on the basis of an unprecedented assertion: that I am “a very good journalist”, which means that my actions were undertaken “with malicious intent, and not out of ignorance”. This is unprecedented in global legal history.
Following my sentencing, numerous international organizations and actors responded, including the OSCE and the International Federation of Journalists, but once again, the only reaction in Greece was a guilty silence. At the present time, I am personally facing, along with Hot Doc magazine, no less than 42 different criminal cases and lawsuits. These are charges filed by politicians and oligarchs, whom we have investigated as part of our journalistic responsibilities. None of these individuals have officially responded to any of our revelations, as public figures are obliged to do.
Instead, they have resorted to legal means while attempting to influence public opinion by saying that they “will punish the slanderer in court”. In this way, they avoid responding to the revelations made against them and employ the justice system in their favour, to hold journalists hostage. It should be noted that Hot Doc’s legal bills for all of these different cases have surpassed €100,000.
The ultimate aim of this coordinated effort of charges and lawsuits against me and my magazine is to force us to reach a settlement, or to otherwise lead to our economic obliteration. It is rare for a journalist to challenge a coordinated and corrupt system, which also holds influence over specific individuals within the legal system, who then hold the power to issue specific sentences and decisions upon request.
Meanwhile, freedom of the press is rapidly being transformed into an altar upon which everyone pretends to worship, but which contains many skeletons within.
Unfortunately, the same is true of justice in Greece as well, resulting in a system where even honest justices often operate in fear of displeasing a government minister or major business figure, who has the power to file charges against them and destroy them.
When former defense minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos was arrested, his personal effects included notes on coordinated actions he would undertake with business figures, in order to destroy prosecutors who were continuing investigations against him. The justice system, in turn, did not have the courage to further examine this and to investigate those who plotting to kill their fellow prosecutors, instead allowing these crucial pieces of evidence to get “lost” in the mountains of paperwork relating to this case.
In this most blatant of manners, judges and prosecutors who depart from the judicial branch in Greece later become legal consultants to the same business figures which, until recently, they held a responsibility to investigate and prosecute. And this convoluted web of corruption and injustice is veiled behind a legal system which issues harsh punishments for charges such as that of libel. This legal system arrests and prosecutes “slanderers”, but, God forbid, never any major fraudsters or corrupt politicians. The very concept of an independent judiciary is devalued on a daily basis in Greece, in the eyes of justice and common sense. If one asks judicial professionals to tell you about justice, they can refer you to a whole range of laws, but to far fewer instances of true justice being served or public figures having been imprisoned.