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Society

Greek Journalist Given 5-Month Suspended Sentence for Insulting Samaras

February 3, 2020

ATHENS – Noted Greek investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, who had been acquitted in 2012 for leaking the names of wealthy Greeks hiding their money in secret foreign bank accounts, was given a five-month suspended sentence after being convicted of mocking former premier Antonis Samaras in a tweet.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) immediately called for the conviction to be overturned on appeal and for the ruling New Democracy – which Samaras had led – to reform criminal defamation laws.

If Vaxevanis commits a similar offense over the next three years the suspended sentence will be revoked and he will be jailed, Greece joining the growing list of countries going after journalists and the media, said a report on Documento.

Vaxevanis told CPJ via email that he filed an appeal in the case, but said a date has not been set for a hearing. He had been detained by police in 2017 after the wife of Bank of Greece Gov. Yannis Stournaras, sued him for libel over his reporting five years earlier over the secret bank accounts, for which he was acquitted.

He was arrested immediately afterwards in response to Samaras’ complaint, which he said was in retaliation for his coverage of the former Premier and associates.

“Politicians should expect and endure criticism, and should not pursue criminal charges against journalists,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said in the New York office.

“Authorities should overturn journalist Kostas Vaxevanis’s conviction on appeal. Greece’s criminal defamation laws are out of place in a liberal democracy and should be scrapped,” she added.

The image that Vaxevanis tweeted on Feb. 25, 2018, which is still public on his account, is a meme depicting Samaras threatening that “anyone who opens their little mouth will share the same fate as Mavrikos.”

That was in reference to Panagiotis Mavrikos, a newspaper publisher, who died in 2016 in a car accident. In the indictment, Samaras called the image “extremely slanderous, defamatory and offensive.” CPJ emailed Samaras’s lawyer for comment, but did not receive any reply.

According to the report by Documento, the court rejected the defense’s argument that the meme was not defamatory because it was satire.

Vaxevanis’s account has more than 400,000 followers, and he frequently posts political commentary and links to his journalism and reports.

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