A newspaper stand in Athens, in July 2017. Police detained three journalists at the daily paper Fileleftheros, after a politician filed a defamation complaint. (AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki) 

Three journalists detained in Greece after minister files complaint

September 26, 2018 10:19 AM ET

Athens police on September 22, 2018 detained three journalists from the daily newspaper Fileleftheros, for one day after Greece's Defense Minister Panos Kammenos accused the paper of defaming him in an article that alleged mishandling of EU funds for migrant and refugee centers, the daily newspaper Ekathimerini reported.

The publisher of Fileleftheros, Thanasis Mavridis, its director and editor-in-chief Panayiotis Lampsias and political desk editor Katerina Galanou presented themselves voluntarily at the police station in Exarchia, a neighborhood in downtown Athens, after the police came to their newspaper's offices on September 22, the state-owned public radio and television broadcaster, ERT reported.

Police were investigating after the minister filed a criminal libel suit against the journalists. The article, published in the paper's print edition the day before, alleged that Kammenos was connected to businessmen who received funding, and that some businesses were awarded contracts without competitive tenders, or overcharged for their services provided to migrant camps, The Associated Press reported. ERT reported that Kammenos denied the allegations in a tweet on September 22, saying that he had "no responsibility [in the government] concerning the refugee issue or EU funds."

The prosecutor released the three journalists on September 23, while police investigate the defamation complaint, AP reported. Under Greek law, defamation is considered a "flagrant" crime, meaning a complaint can result in immediate detention. Some Greek legal scholars have said this is unconstitutional, AP reported.

Lampsias said that the intervention by the minister was "shameful" and added, "There is an issue with democracy when politicians in power believe that they can bring accusations against journalists whom they do not like," Ekathimerini reported. In a statement on its website, Athens journalists' union ESHEA, criticized the police and said that "in flagrante" arrest procedures for press articles should be abolished. It called on the government to abolish the criminal defamation law for the media, saying that it jeopardizes freedom of information and terrorizes journalists.

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