ATHENS – Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel, singled out by Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis who didn’t like being questioned about alleged pushbacks of refugees, had to flee Greece after being threatened and not offered protection, she said.
Beugel accused Mitsotakis of lying when his government denied pushing boats with refugees and migrants coming from Turkey back to sea and also across the land border with that country.
Beugel lives in Greece but said she will leave the country temporarily after claiming she received online threats and was attacked. She told Dutch media outlet NU.nl that while returning home at night a man threw a stone at her.
She said he also called her a “Turkish prostitute” and a “Turkish spy.”
“The stone tore my forehead… There is still a witch hunt online,” she added, the alleged attack and threats coming after she clashed with Mitsotakis during his news conference with Dutch Premier Mark Rutte about refugees.
Beugel asked: “Prime Minister Mitsotakis, when, at last, will you stop lying? Lying about pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Greece?”
Mitsotakis, whose Conservative New Democracy government has been accused by critics of trying to put clamps on the media and over a new law that could jail journalists for so-called “fake news” around the COVID-19 pandemic, snapped back.
Clearly perturbed at the way the question was put, and with Greek politicians rarely speaking with reporters or being grilled he told her: “I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts.”
He noted that Greece is a signatory to the UNHCR 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which gives refugees the right to seek asylum, with Greece still holding some 100,000 of them.
They have been coming since 2015 from Turkey, where they went fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan, and Turkey is allowing human traffickers to keep sending them,
despite an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
Human rights groups, activists and major media, including The New York Times, have reported the alleged pushbacks and produced video evidence, as has Turkey’s Coast Guard, but Mitsotakis’ government said it never happened.
He told Beugel that, “Rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalizing migration systematically, pushing people in (a) desperate situation from a safe country, because I need to remind you that people in Turkey are not in danger,” he said.
He also has said, however, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the threat of flooding Greece and the EU with potentially millions more refugees and migrants to pressure for more concessions.
Xandra Schutte, Editor-in-Chief of the Dutch newspaper De Groene Amsterdammer, Xandra Schutte, said that Beugel will return to The Netherlands for now after the journalist said Greek police wouldn’t offer her protection.
Schutte says a smear campaign hounded Beugel. That happened on social media, but the reactions were fueled by government media, which constantly show images of the Dutch journalist in talk shows and make insinuating remarks, she said.
“Very worrying,” Schutte told NL Times, accusing Greece of having the worst press freedom record in Europe along with Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban, unchecked by the EU, is trying to stamp out all independent media.
Schutte said Beugel became recognizable and in danger after her appearance at the news conference. “She’s not safe when she goes out on the street. A rock was thrown at her.” Her safety is most important now. “Once she is in the Netherlands, we will, of course, see what we can do.”
The Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) condemned the alleged threats, as did the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) which tweeted that it “is appalled that #Dutch journalist @IBeugel has been driven out of the country after facing threats, insults & even a physical attack. She was targeted in a malicious smear campaign & branded a Turkish propaganda agent after questioning the PM about illegal pushbacks”
The NVJ asked Greek authorities to guarantee her safety and prosecute harassers and perpetrators of violence and defended her right to ask questions of the Prime Minister, even if he didn’t like it.
“During the press conference, Beugel was simply doing her job as a critical journalist, and the Greek government should therefore stand up for her, now that she is getting threatened in an aggressive and intimidating way about her journalistic work,” the union said.