Greece's Rule of Law Under Threat

Human Rights Watch

The European Commission should take immediate action to address the deterioration of media freedom and the rule of law in Greece and its impact on fundamental rights, 17 human rights and press freedom organizations said today in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Threats to the rule of law include an ongoing major surveillance scandal allegedly implicating the government in the targeted hacking of journalists' devices, government interference with the media, abusive lawsuits against journalists and activists, and an overall unsafe working environment for journalists. Two unresolved murders of journalists in 10 years underscore the risks they face. In addition, under the New Democracy government, the authorities have used the criminal justice system to threaten civil society groups and activists. Registration requirements for nongovernmental groups working on migration and asylum have imposed an unreasonable burden on them.

The Commission should take immediate action to address these concerns, including opening an independent investigation into the Greek authorities' use of spyware to target journalists, activists, and opposition politicians. Greek authorities have taken steps to reduce transparency and scrutiny as well as to limit surveillance victims' access to a remedy, exacerbating the fact that to date the remedies have been ineffective, the groups said.

Nongovernmental groups have repeatedly raised the alarm about attacks on the rule of law in Greece over the years, including in recent stakeholder submissions for the 2024 European Commission's Rule of Law Report. For the second year in a row, Greece came last among European Union countries in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

In the letter, the groups highlight the ongoing major spyware scandal and its aftermath. State surveillance of journalists raises urgent privacy and freedom of expression concerns and affects the ability of the media to hold the authorities to account. It interferes with media freedom and violates the confidentiality of journalistic sources, protected under the European Convention on Human Rights and EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Such surveillance has a chilling effect on journalism and its role in a democratic society.

Despite these warnings, the European Commission has failed to take meaningful steps to hold the Greek government to account for the breach of its rule of law and fundamental rights obligations under EU law. The Commission, including in its 2023 Rule of Law report, has expressed concerns about the situation for journalists and civil society, but neither the report nor the Commission's related statements on Greece reflect the severity of the situation, the groups said.

The Commission should take urgent action to address the rule of law crisis in Greece and ensure that Greek authorities comply with the country's obligations under EU law, the groups said. The Commission should investigate the concerns raised by civil society and the UN expert thoroughly and publicly and provide clear and measurable recommendations to the Greek authorities. Finally, it should also assess whether Greece's breaches of the rule of law and fundamental rights warrant the suspension of EU funds.

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