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Greece: Acquittal of migrants’ rights defender Panayote Dimitras


May 7, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in Greece.

The Observatory has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) about the acquittal of minority rights defender Mr. Panayote Dimitras. Mr. Dimitras is the GHM co-founder and spokesperson, and member of the OMCT’s General Assembly.

On April 17, 2024, the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens acquitted Panayote Dimitras after five years of judicial harassment. He was prosecuted under criminal charges of “false accusation” and “aggravated defamation” (Articles 229 and 363 of the Criminal Code of Greece, respectively) for having denounced racist comments from a public official.

The Observatory recalls that the trial against Mr. Dimitras was related to a complaint of “violating the Law on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia” he filed in December 2018 before the Department for Combating Racist Violence (Attica Division) of the Hellenic Police against Mr. Christos Kalyviotis, then Mayor of Limni - Mantoudi - Agia Anna. According to Mr. Dimitras’ complaint, Mr. Kalyviotis equated asylum seekers and refugees to criminals in a statement from December 13, 2018. The complaint was however dismissed and archived by the Prosecutor on July 4, 2019. On April 22, 2019, Mr. Kalyviotis filed an oral complaint at a local police station for “false accusation” and “aggravated defamation” against Panayote Dimitras. The complaint was transferred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Athens Court of First Instance on July 16, 2019, and a preliminary investigation was opened on January 8, 2020.

In addition, on February 16, 2024, Mr. Dimitras was notified that Mr. Kalyviotis had filed a lawsuit against him at the civil level in relation to the same facts, for “aggravated defamation” (Article 57 of the Greek Civil Code). Mr. Dimitras was given 90 days to present his arguments before the Single-Judge First Instance Court of Athens sets a hearing date.

The Observatory recalls that the procedure initiated by Mr. Kalyviotis is only one out of many abusive criminal proceedings brought against Panayote Dimitras over the past few years and constitutive of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

On March 13, 2024, the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens eventually put an end to the prosecution of Mr. Dimitras under similar charges of “false accusation” and “aggravated defamation”, resulting from the complaint filed in February 2019 by Mr. Kostas Katsikis, then Member of the Greek Parliament for the extreme-right party Independent Greeks. Mr. Dimitras had filed a complaint against him in November 2017 for “public incitement to violence or hatred” after Mr. Katsikis allegedly made a racist, homophobic, and transphobic speech during a parliamentary debate on December 12, 2016. On March 13, 2024, the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens declared the nullity of the writ of summons due to a procedural mistake and dropped the charges against Mr. Dimitras.

On June 16, 2023, the Athens Court of Appeal acquitted Panayote Dimitras and his colleague Ms. Andrea Gilbert, GHM specialist on anti-Semitism, following a similar case. On February 15, 2022, Mr. Dimitras and Ms. Gilbert had been sentenced in first instance to a twelve-month prison sentence suspended for three years on the charge of “false accusation” in relation to a complaint for “public incitement to violence or hatred” and “abuse of ecclesiastical office” they had filed in April 2017 against the Metropolitan Bishop of Piraeus Seraphim.

In other instances, Mr. Dimitras saw similar charges dropped by the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens before facing trial. On June 8, 2023, the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens granted Mr. Dimitras’ appeal against his referral to trial and dropped the charges of “false accusation” and “aggravated defamation” brought against him by a police officer after Mr. Dimitras had filed a complaint against him in relation with a homophobic statement.

On February 3, 2023, the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens had granted Mr. Dimitras’ appeal against his referral to trial following another complaint for “false accusation” and “aggravated defamation” filed by musician and actor Mr. Yannis Zouganelis on March 26, 2019. The proceedings were related a complaint filed in December 2018 by Mr. Dimitras against Mr. Zouganelis following racist comments against Greece-based migrants in a statement he made on TV on December 19, 2018.

However, Panayote Dimitras is still facing another trial in relation to a complaint he filed in 2021 against extreme-right leader Mr. Failos Kranidiotis, following the publication of a tweet in which he called all refugees “illegal plunderers”. As a result, Mr. Kranidiotis filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Dimitras for “alleged insult” and requested 120,000 Euros for moral damage. On October 20, 2023, an Athens Multi-Member First Instance Court ruled that the complaint of Mr. Dimitras was constitutive of an insult under Article 57 of the Greek Civil Code and awarded Mr. Kranidiotis 3,000 Euros for moral damage and 500 Euros for court expenses when the judgment becomes final. Mr. Dimitras has appealed the judgement, and a hearing is scheduled before the Athens Court of Appeal for October 24, 2024. It is worth noting that in this case, Twitter removed the litigious tweet for hateful content.

Moreover, Mr. Dimitras is facing further judicial harassment for having provided humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers, resulting in severe preventive measures including a ban on carrying out any of GHM’s activities and the freezing of all his assets. While the European Parliament has expressed its concern over these measures and Mr. Dimitras’ prosecution “for illegal trafficking, even though it appears that he was acting lawfully to provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers” in its resolution of February 7, 2024 on the rule of law and media freedom in Greece (2024/2502(RSP)), the responses provided by the Supreme Court and the Greek government to the resolution are of particular concern and seem to constitute both smear campaigns against Mr. Dimitras as well as violations to his right to a fair trial.

The Observatory welcomes the acquittal of Panayote Dimitras and the end of the judicial harassment against him in the various SLAPP cases against him but recalls that he should have never been prosecuted in the first place, as this judicial harassment was only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory recalls that on February 27, 2024, the European Parliament adopted the anti-SLAPP Directive in its first reading, and while it has not entered into force yet, the Observatory encourages the Greek authorities to start preparing for its effective implementation to protect human rights defenders from abusive proceedings.

The Observatory expresses concern over the continuing judicial harassment of Panayote Dimitras and urges the Greek authorities to respect his rights to due process and fair trial, and to ensure that an end is put an to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him, as well as all other human rights defenders in the country.



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