ATHENS – A coalition of eight groups supporting journalists want Greece to back off charges against two investigative reports who were writing about the alleged scandal around the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis that hasn’t seen any evidende brought.
They complained that journalists Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou face serious criminal charges for their relentless reporting on the case although nine of the 10 accused without apparent cause – all rivals of the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA – have already been cleared.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joined seven other media groups to ask authorities to drop the charges after an earlier virtual fact-finding mission said the New Democracy government was trying to muzzle the media, including with a fake news law to block misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic but which provides penalties for journalists and publishers too.
The groups said they wanted assurances that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government isn’t meddling with justice but were ignored, as have other critics complaining of a heavy hand by the administration.
“Our organisations are following these two legal cases with utmost scrutiny given the obvious concerns they raise with regard to press freedom. Authorities must issue guarantees that the process is demonstrably independent and free of any political interference,” a joint statement said.
Vaxevanis, publisher of the newspaper Documento, testified at the Special High Court over four criminal charges of conspiracy to abuse power through his newspaper’s reporting on the Novartis case.
He faces faces five years of imprisonment if found guilty, with a maximum sentence of 20 years but he denounced the charges as politically motivated by Mitsotakis’ government to silence him as the case singled out a number of New Democracy politicians and former officials.
Papadakou, a former investigative journalist and television host, is set to appear before a court on Jan. 25 on separate but similar charges of being part of a criminal organisation which conspired to fabricate news stories about the Novartis case and the so-called “Lagarde List” of wealthy Greeks hiding their money in secret Swiss bank accounts.
Papadakou has rejected the case as “blatant violation of the rule of law” and the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Union (POESY – PFJU) have both expressed concern about the prosecution of the journalists, the groups said.
The summons of Vaxevanis and Papadakou to testify are part of a wider parliamentary investigation into allegations of political conspiracy and abuse of power involving Greek judge and politician Dimitris Papagelopoulos, a former deputy minister for SYRIZA.
He is accused of falsely incriminating political opponents through the Novartis case in a probe brought by the New Democracy government, both parties accused by critics of trying to get each other over it.
“The nature of the charges, their connection to investigative reporting on corruption, and the potential imprisonment of two journalists in an EU Member State, raise legitimate concerns regarding press freedom and demand utmost scrutiny,” the coalition said.
That came as the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is due to publish its findings about press freedom in Greece although the government didn’t take part in the mission.