Greece: Trial of journalist a blow to freedom of speech

Greek journalist Kostas VaxevanisGreek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis posted at Amnesty International

© LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

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

Marek Marczyński, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
Thu, 01/11/2012

The Greek authorities must uphold the right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said, following the prosecution of journalist Kostas Vaxevanis.

The organization’s comments came on Thursday as Vaxevanis went to trial in Athens for breach of privacy after publishing the names of 2,000 Greeks alleged to have HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland and calling 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.

“It is deeply troubling that Vaxevanis is facing criminal charges, and possibly jail time, for disclosing information in the public interest,” said Marek Marczyński, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“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 suspensions came after the pair critically debated the stance of Nikolaos Dendias, the Minister of Citizens’ Protection, in relation to allegations police carried out torture or other ill-treatment on 15 anti-fascist protesters in the Attika General Police Directorate, and referred to a report sent by an investigative judge to the Public Prosecutor requesting that any police officer responsible for the ill-treatment of protesters charged with a felony.

A report by state pathologists, who examined eight of the arrested protesters, confirmed they had suffered bodily harm and one of them had suffered serious bodily injuries.

The minister denied the allegations and said he would file a criminal complaint against The Guardian newspaper in the UK which had published the claims.

Amnesty International recently issued a statement expressing profound concerns over allegations of torture or other ill-treatment being conducted by police officers and called on the Greek authorities to send a strong message against police abuse.


Greece: Democracy Comes Home to Die

 

by Maria Margaronis on October 30, 2012 – 11:09 , Originally Published at The Nation

There’s a chant that used to irritate me when I heard it on Greek protests against austerity last year: “Bread, Education, Freedom, the Junta didn’t end in 1973.” (It’s a bit better in Greek; it rhymes, at least.) If you call an elected government a junta, I thought, however catastrophic its policies, what will you call a real junta when you see one? And if you conflate disparate historical moments—the military dictatorship that ruled Greece for seven years from 1967, say, with the collapse that began in 2010, when the socialist government declared the coffers empty and signed up to the EU and IMF’s disastrous austerity program—how will you make sense of what’s actually happening?

I still don’t like that chant. But it is also true that Greece can no longer be called a functioning democracy. (Some might say it never could; but that’s another story.) Here, very briefly, are three reasons why:

One: A significant part of the police, elements of the judiciary and some sections of the coastguard have been infiltrated by supporters of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which won eighteen seats in parliament in June and has been soaring ever since. Police not only turn a blind eye to increasing far-right violence against immigrants and leftists: they sometimes participate in it. (For more about the rise of Golden Dawn and its penetration of the police, see my long report for The GuardianPaul Mason’s for the BBC and thisfrom Borderline Reports.)

Having allowed a fascist organization to hijack law enforcement through a lethal cocktail of intention, incompetence and inertia, the state is still failing to address the problem. A scheme has just been announced to set up a central police database that will record all racist incidents, but there is no plan to purge and reform the police force itself. Instead, the government will create a new unit to combat racist violence—which suggests the surreal image of opposed police squads fighting each other on the street. Read the rest of this entry »


It won’t just be Greek journalists who suffer from free speech crackdown

There is nothing pro-European about a government sworn on suppressing freedom of speech.

BY YIANNIS BABOULIAS PUBLISHED 30 OCTOBER 2012 10:25 at The New Statesman 

  • A protestor and a member of the riot police in Athens
A protestor and a member of the riot police in Athens during the recent general strike. Photograph: Getty Images

It seems that the Greek government has embarked on a crusade to silence dissident voices. In a story making headlines all over the world by now, the Greek investigative journalist and publisher Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested for publishing the now infamous “Lagarde List” containing the names of more than 2,000 Greeks who hold accounts with HSBC in Switzerland. The list, given by Christine Lagarde in 2010 to then Finance Minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou, remained unused. It subsequently became the focus of much anti-government scrutiny when, after being asked why the list wasn’t used in the same way it had been by France and Germany to bring in much-needed funds for Greece, ministers simply claimed “I lost it”.

After being toyed with for two years, Vaxevanis saw fit to publish the list in his magazine Hot Doc last week, to “end this insult against the Greek people”. Greece appears to be losing more than 20 billion euros to tax dodging every year while austerity measures, that would otherwise be unnecessary, bite hard. The unwillingness of the last three elected governments to clash with the Greek tax-dodging elite prompted the journalist to force the government’s hand. For his actions in the pursuit of justice, he is now facing up to a year in prison.

What strikes observers as particularly strange is what followed the publication. Despite the fact other newspapers and magazines had published such lists before, this was the first time the order was given for a journalist to be arrested over it. The charges are breach of private data and mishandling confidential documents. Read the rest of this entry »


Freedom of speech suspended “until further notice”

By Leonidas Oikonomakis On October 30, 2012. Originally posted at http://roarmag.org/

Post image for Freedom of speech suspended “until further notice”In Greece, the attack on press freedoms and the collusion with Golden Dawn are indicative of a government in panic and a crumbling hegemonic order.Image: photojournalist Tatiana Bolari is slapped in the face by a policeman while covering a protest in Athens in October 2011.

You may have heard the story. A couple of days ago an arrest warrant was issued by a Greek prosecutor for Kostas Vaxevanis, a Greek investigative journalist. His crime? HOTDoc, the magazine he edits, published a list of 1,991 Greeks who made $1.95 billion in deposits in the Geneva branch of HSBC bank in Switzerland.

It’s a list that was stolen by former HSBC employee Herve Falciani in 2007, and that former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde submitted to former Greek Finance Minister Georgios Papakonstantinou. While other countries (including France, Germany, and the UK) made use of their respective lists to investigate potential tax evasion, though, the Greek list just “disappeared” somewhere between the offices of Georgios Papakonstantinou and his successor, Evangelos Venizelos — now President of PASOK — for two whole years. Yet, it took the Greek government only a few hours to arrest the journalist who discovered and published it.

The case put into question not only the independence of the judiciary in Greece, but also the state of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the country. And what makes things worse is that Vaxevanis’ case was by no means an isolated one.

Around a month earlier, an MP of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party called for the intervention of the Minister of Justice into the case of a 27-year-old who had created a Facebook group satirizing a well-known monk, paraphrasing his name from Elder Paisios, to Elder Pastitsios (referring to “Pastitsio”, a greek famous dish with pasta and minced meat). Again the Greek state showed excellent reflexes! Within a few hours, the 27-year-old was arrested on charges of blasphemy (!) and insulting religion, while the police entered his house and seized his computer and Facebook account.

The Greek state’s reflexes improved even more, though, in the case of the dismissal of journalists Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi from the Greek state broadcaster NET/ERT for criticizing Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias over the torture report of the 15 anti-fascist activists that the Guardian (and not the Greek media) published, which led the Minister to accuse the British newspaper of “spreading lies”, also threatening it with legal action. Apparently, professional forensic examination of the 15 anti-fascists showed that torture had indeed taken place, and the journalists made the following comments on their Morning-magazino today:

Ms. Katsimi: … and here are the forensic findings for the 15 arrestees, published in the Guardian and for which case Mr. Dendias wanted to sue theGuardian.

Mr. Arvanitis: Didn’t he sue it?

Ms. Katsimi: He didn’t because the findings show that it is indeed a felony.

Mr. Arvanitis: And now, is he going to resign?

Ms. Katsimi: I do not think that he would resign. But it was strange what Mr. Dendias said — as if he knew the findings, which is not normally done… on the one hand is good that he didn’t know the findings, but on the other hand, how can you say such a thing?

Mr. Arvanitis: And now what? Would he apologize?

Ms. Katsimi: I don’t know…

Mr. Arvanitis: Wow… that’s difficult for Mr. Dendias. And he is from the same place as you, from Corfu.

Ms. Katsimi: And he is a serious man, I have to say.”

In a matter of minutes, Aimilios Liatsos, the General Director of the State Broadcaster, announced to the journalists that they would be “cut off” from the news magazine “until further notice”, with the following statement:

“The General Directorate of ERT fully respects the rules of the free press and it proves in daily practice the broadcast of all views. However, it can not accept the violation of the minimum standards of journalistic ethics.

“The presenters of the daily magazine ‘Morning Information’ on NET, Mr. Kostas Arvanitis and Mrs. Marilena Katsimi, made unacceptable insinuations against the Minister of Citizen Protection, Mr. Nikos Dendias, and this without giving him the right to express his own opinion, while with their comments they appeared to prejudge the outcome of the judicial decision.”

Of course the incident was met with outrage by the Greek public, which characterized it as “junta-style censorship”.

As if this was not enough, the journalist union POESY announced today that another journalist of the state broadcaster ET3 was also fired on October 26, 2012, because she noticed a “strong military presence” outside Agios Dimitrios Church in Thessaloniki during the festivities for the city’s liberation — and she dared to say it on air! Later on, on the same day, a young man was arrested because on his Facebook page he had uploaded photographs showing Greek policemen together with members of Golden Dawn, during the national holiday. The official accusation: violation of private data law, and spreading false rumors that may harm the country’s image abroad.

All these incidents are indicative of a government (and a political system in general) in panic; one that does not hesitate to censor freedom of speech in order to protect the hegemonic political, cultural, and economic elites it is serving. While it is now soon to announce further austerity measures of 13.5 billion euros, which will again disproportionately hit the middle and lower classes of the country, it has been protecting for two years the 1.991 “possible” tax evaders, all the while pampering the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party by responding immediately to every ridiculous little prompt of theirs. At the same time, it is secretly torturing anti-fascists in the Golden Dawn headq… excuse me, police stations — and is ready to silence within hours anyone who may express an opinion critical to the government’s.

Welcome to the Greece of the Memorandum.

Here, freedom of speech has been suspended, until the next loan-instalment is released.

Good night.


Another Greek Myth: Freedom of the Press

30 October 2012

By  posted at Critical Legal Thinking

Op-ed on the arrest of Kostas Vaxevanis for publishing the names of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts

A war­rant for Greek journ­al­ist Kos­tas Vaxevanis’ arrest was issued today [Ed. 28 Octo­ber 2012] for the alleged crime of “viol­at­ing pri­vacy legis­la­tion” related to his bi-​weekly magazine HOT DOC which pub­lished a list of 2,059 names and asso­ci­ated pro­fes­sions of Greek nation­als from the cli­ent data­base of HSBC in Switzer­land. So, what does the Greek gov­ern­ment do? Arrest the tax evaders? No chance. Since the list of the tax evaders was given to the Greek gov­ern­ment over two years ago by French Fin­ance Min­is­ter Lagarde, suc­cess­ive Greek gov­ern­ments under Pasok and the New Demo­cracy led coali­tion have failed to arrest a single known tax evader, not one!

Yet today [Ed. 28 Octo­ber 2012], the Greek gov­ern­ment arres­ted journ­al­ist Kos­tas Vaxevanis for pub­lish­ing the tax evader list known to exist by the entire world. The list includes — among oth­ers — well known busi­ness people, journ­al­ists, doc­tors, law­yers, and media fig­ures many of who have declared income that does not jus­tify the amount of money in their HSBCaccounts. To add insult to injury, youth unem­ploy­ment in Greece stands at 54%, aver­age over­all unem­ploy­ment at 25%, and with massive social dis­lo­ca­tion promp­ted by the forced aus­ter­ity meas­ures imposed by the EU, the ECBand the IMF, you would think the Greek gov­ern­ment would go after the tax evaders to help pay off their massive debts or help stim­u­late jobs and show the Greek people that no one is above the law. No chance. The tax evaders, not the people of Greece, still pull the power strings in Greece… the world is watch­ing and yes, that includes the Greek Dia­spora.

George D. Pap­pas is the Exec­ut­ive Dir­ector & Attor­ney at the Inter­na­tional Cen­ter for Legal Stud­ies in Ashev­ille, North Carolina.


Censorship & Art

B. Censorship

 

Comparison of Marina Abramovic’s Performance at the Venice Biennale, and Sanja Ivekovic’s Performance Miss Croatia and Miss Brazil Read Zizek and Chomsky at the Sao Paolo Biennale

 

                      a. The Representative of Yugoslavia in Venice during the War

Marina Abramovic’s performance Balkan Baroque at the 47th Venice Biennale “Future Past Present” in 1997 was almost censored because of pressure from the Montenegrin government.  However, because of a tactful decision of the curator, she was able to perform at the Venice Biennale.

Because of the unstable and complicated situation, the name of the Yugoslavian pavilion in Venice had not been changed, even though the old form of Yugoslavia itself no longer existed.  Peter Cukovic, the director of the museum in Montenegro, was selected as the Yugoslav Commissioner under an agreement between the Federal and Montenegrin Ministries of Culture.  He invited Abramovic, who was born in Belgrade and lived in Amsterdam, to show her work in the Yugoslavian pavilion.  The choice was controversial, and both positive and negative interpretations appeared daily in Montenegrin and Serbian newspapers.

b. Marina Abramovic, the Biggest Name in Europe, and Protection by the Curator

Goran Rakocevic, the Montenegrin government’s Minister of Culture, was displeased since he felt that Abramovic, as an emigré famous in Western Europe, could not reflect “authentic art from Montenegro, free of any complex of inferiority.”[1]  Rakocevic stated in a newspaper that “Montenegro is not a cultural margin and it should not be just a homeland colony for megalomaniac performances.  In my opinion, we should be represented in the world by painters marked by Montenegro and its poetics, since we have the luck and honor to have brilliant artists living among us.”[2]  Soon, Abramovic sent an official statement to the press saying she “terminated all communication with all Heimat-institutions responsible for the Biennale.”  Soon after, Vojo Stanic, a landscape painter, was announced as her replacement.  However, Germano Celant, the chief curator of the Venice Biennale, intervened and invited Abramovic to participate in his central exhibition in the Italian pavilion, offering her the whole lower level to use for her installation.  As a result, she won one of the major prizes, the “International Venice Biennale Award.”[3]

Marina Abramovic’s performance Balkan Baroque at Venetia Biennale, 1997

Left: Artist Body  Right: Marina Abramovic: Venice Biennale 1997

Contrary to Rakocevic’s opinion, Abramovic’s installation undoubtedly reflected the profundity of her cultural background.  Based on her family background, she should have been the ideal selection politically as well as artistically.  She was the child of a mixed marriage of a Serbian and a Montenegrin, and both of her parents were leaders of the intelligentsia.  Her mother Danica was a general of army from poor family, and her father was a national hero, having been an important figure in the Partisans during World War II who came from a rich family.[4]  Her grandfather was the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, and was murdered with his brothers by the King in 1938.  He was later embalmed and buried as a saint. Furthermore, her grandmother was a fanatic of religion.[5]

Abramovic’s installation “Balkan Baroque”, which she calls a play, is made up of a triptych of video screens which is similar to church icons.  Two screens, one on the left and the other on the right side, show images of her parents.  A central screen shows the artist dressed as a scientist, explaining the story of the creation of the Balkan “Wolf Rats,” creatures who destroy each other when they are placed in unbearable conditions.  Alternately, the screen switches to Abramovic adopting the outrageous persona of a typical Balkan pub singer who entertains her audience by dancing to folk music from her childhood.  The large room containing the installation holds three copper vessels filled with water and a massive pile of animal bones.  For four days, in sessions of six hours each, the artist sits singing in the middle of these animal bones while scrubbing them with disinfectant, clearing away scraps of meat attached to the bones.[6]  This dramatic act of purification is an act of grief and reflects the devastating war in the Balkans.  Abramovic’s approach is both tragic and wildly ironic.[7]

Read the rest of this entry »


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