Human rights defenders in Greece working to protect asylum seeker and migrant rights are facing threats and attacks from authorities, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor.
Lawlor, who visited Greece in June 2022 to assess the situation for rights defenders in the country, presented her findings to the UN Human Rights Council on March 15. “[H]uman rights lawyers, humanitarian workers, volunteers and journalists [working on migration], have been subjected to smear campaigns, a changing regulatory environment, threats and attacks and the misuse of criminal law against them, to a shocking degree,” she writes in the 19-page report.
With Greece facing intense international criticism over pushbacks and wider human rights concerns related to migration and asylum, the Greek government has moved to silence groups working to spotlight those abuses. While the report acknowledges that the landscape for some civil society groups in Greece is better, experience from other European countries indicates that a degrading environment for civil society in one sector can easily spread.
Lawlor’s report also flags Greek authorities’ curbs on media freedom, lack of media pluralism, and a surveillance scandal impacting journalists. “News reports that are inconvenient or unflattering for the government, including reporting on serious human rights violations, do not get sufficient coverage on many media outlets,” the report says. “Journalists have also faced criminal lawsuits and strategic lawsuits against public participation for their investigative reporting on corruption and environmental pollution.”
Greece fell 38 positions within a year in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 report on the Press Freedom Index to 108 out of 180 countries, making it the lowest-ranked European Union country for press freedom.
Contrasting Greece’s response at the Human Rights Council with the issues Lawlor highlights, the Greek government should champion civil society by implementing without delay the UN expert’s recommendations, including dropping outstanding criminal charges and investigations against rights defenders.
The European Commission noted in July last year the narrowing space in Greece for groups working with migrants and asylum seekers, and warned that attacks and threats against journalists persist as media freedom has deteriorated further. The commission should step up its engagement on the issue and press Greece to stop harassing civil society groups, activists, and journalists.