ATHENS – Two noted human rights activists were convicted of “falsely accusing” an outspoken Greek Bishop of racist hate speech for his virulent denunciations of gays and saying Jews created the Holocaust.
A three-member tribunal sentenced the activists to 12-month jail terms – suspended for three years – after acquitting Bishop Seraphim, the Metropolitan of Piraeus, of antisemitic rhetoric despite his fiery provocations.
That included 2015 comments about legislation giving same-sex couples expanding civil rights to the “international Zionist monster,” referring to the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.
In 2010, he told a local TV station that Jews had orchestrated the Holocaust and were to blame for Greece’s crushing debt and austerity crisis althoygh he qualified by saying it was his opinion and not of the Greek Church.
In a report on the finding, the British newspaper The Guardian noted how the trial was being closely watched by human rights activists, who denounced the verdict that let the Bishop off the hook.
“Today’s outrageous verdict is representative of the institutionalised antisemitism that exists in Greece,” Andrea Gilbert, one of the accused who works at the Greek Helsinki Monitor rights group told the paper. “We have immediately appealed and will fight it all the way.”
She and the other defandant – including the Greek Helsinki Monitor’s spokesperson Panayote Dimitras -brought the complaint against Seraphim in April 2017, accusing him of inciting violence and hatred.
Also over his statement described by the country’s Central Board of Jewish Communities, KIS, as being replete with “well-known antisemitic stereotypes, conspiracy theories and traditional Jew-hating attitudes”
Calling the conviction “alarming”, Amnesty International tweeted: “The ruling poses a direct threat to the right to freedom of expression and has a chilling effect on human rights defenders advocating against racism and hate speech.”
Before the hearing, Human Rights Watch had described the charges against the activists as being part of a troubling trend in Greece of the criminal justice system being employed by the state against civil society, said The Guardian.
A prosecutor had dismissed their complaint, saying the statement should be seen in the context of the doctrine of the Christian Orthodox Church but the Bishop brought his own complaint against them for making false statements using his own words.
The New York-based news site The Algemeiner, which covers issues of interest to the Jewish community and Israel, said the Bishop was “an obsessive homophobe and enthusiastic conspiracy theorist, Seraphim has a long record of bigoted statements.”
The paper noted that during a 2010 television interview, Seraphim claimed that “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.”
It added that in Dec. 2020, he was investigated by the Piraeus prosecutor for declaring in a sermon that the vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic “are made and prepared with the product of abortions.”
Although it’s against the law in Greece to deny the Holocaust, there was no explanation why the Bishop wasn’t charged for his statements, the verdict coming as Greece is trying to improve relations with Israel and fend off a reputation for being anti-Semitic.
“Human rights defenders (in Greece) are consistently targeted for their legitimate work,” said the international secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture.
The group said activists“face different types of attacks, including surveillance, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests, detentions, ill-treatment, entry bans and expulsions,” for speaking out against injustices.