The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and another UN expert to the Government of Greece on 28 December 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 23 February 2023.
Since the sending of the communication, several restrictive measures have been imposed on Panayote Dimitras as the investigation against him continues. These include a travel ban, a duty to report to the police twice a month, a €10,000 bail, and a prohibition on his work with the Greek Helsinki Monitor or any related activities.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders expressed her concerns about these developments on 25 January 2023 and will continue to follow the case.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: criminal investigations opened against human rights defenders Panayote Dimitras, Tommy Olsen, Madi Williamson and Ruhi Akhtar.
Mr. Panayote Dimitras is a Greek human rights defender and Spokesperson of the Greek Helsinki Monitor, a non-governmental organisation founded in 1993 to monitor and litigate on issues pertaining to human rights in Greece, including the rights of minorities and anti-discrimination.
Mr. Tommy Olsen is a Norwegian human rights defender and founder of Aegean Boat Report. He monitors and reports on the human rights situation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea.
Ms. Ruhi Akhtar is the Founder of Refugee Biriyani & Bananas, a non-governmental organisation which delivers urgent aid to displaced people worldwide, including in Greece.
Ms. Madi Williamson is a human rights defender and nurse specialised in health in migration contexts. She is the Director of In-Sight Collaborative, which provides humanitarian aid along migratory routes.
In relation to an alleged investigation by the Investigating Judge of Kos
On 10 October 2022, an article was published in the Kathimerini (Η Καθημερινή) newspaper, Greek’s highest circulation daily, detailing investigations allegedly opened against two unnamed persons described as a lawyer and head of a Greek NGO, and a person from northern Europe who had set up an NGO working on the situation in the Aegean Sea. The article claimed that investigations had been initiated against the two persons by the Hellenic Coastguard and the National Intelligence Service in 2021 for actions suspected of infringing the prohibition on facilitating entry of third country nationals into Greek territory, an offence under the Greek Migration Code (Law 4251 of 2014). The author claimed supposed links between the two persons and traffickers in Turkey to be the actions relevant to the investigation, citing as evidence two alleged occasions in which the unnamed persons had contacted the Greek authorities to alert them as to the arrival of people within Greek territory to seek asylum. At the time of the publication of the article, neither Mr. Dimitras nor Mr. Olsen, suspected to be the individuals referred to in the article, had been made aware of any such investigation against them.
On 19 November 2022, Mr. Dimitras received a summons from the investigating judge at the First Instance Court of Kos to submit his defence for the alleged offenses of a) forming and joining a criminal organisation; b) facilitation, by two or more persons, of entry into Greece; and c) facilitation of illegal residence of a citizen of a third country for profit, under article 187.1 of the Criminal Code and articles 29.5 and 29.6 of Law 4251/2014, respectively. As of the finalisation of this communication, Mr. Olsen had reportedly yet to be notified of any investigation involving him. The accusations against the human rights defenders reportedly relate to their alleged sharing of information with the Greek authorities about the presence of persons within Greek territory seeking to apply for asylum, with their roles within Aegean Boat Report and the Greek Helsinki Monitor considered as evidence of their intention to violate Greek migration law for profit and by profession.
On 20 December 2022, Mr. Dimitras was brought in for questioning by the Investigating Judge of Kos and the Kos Prosecutor in relation to the above-detailed accusations against him. He was informed by the investigator and prosecutor that they would seek an injunction against him continuing his work with the Greek Helsinki Monitor, and either house arrest or the imposition of a travel ban with a connected duty to report to the police twice a month and a caution of €10,000.
In relation to an alleged investigation by the Investigating Judge of Lesbos
On 19 July 2021, the Lesbos Police Directorate released a statement announcing that a case file had been prepared in relation to alleged criminal activity of 10 persons, including four members of NGOs and 6 third-country nationals. The alleged crimes in question were stated to be the offences of facilitating illegal entry into Greek territory; espionage; obstructing investigations of the Greek authorities; and other violations of the Migration Code. The Police statement claimed that communications between the persons included in the case file and people arriving in Greece via irregular means amounted to the criminal activity in question, stating that the investigation had been carried out in cooperation with the National Police and the assistance of the Anti-Terrorist Service.
According to information received, the case file prepared by the Lesbos Police Directorate would now be under consideration by the Investigating Judge of Lesbos, with Mr. Olsen, Ms. Williamson and Ms. Akhtar among those accused in the case. The same case file would also have been requested by the Investigating Judge of Kos, in connection with the previously-mentioned investigation allegedly involving Mr. Olsen.
In the communication, we express serious concern that the investigations reportedly opened against Messrs. Dimitras and Olsen, Ms. Williamson and Ms. Akhtar, may amount to the improper use of Greece’s legal framework to sanction their actions as human rights defenders, in particular their communicating of information to the Greek authorities as to the presence of persons within Greek territory seeking to claim asylum, a right guaranteed under European and international law. We express further that their status as members of human rights organisations may be being considered an aggravating factor in the case against them.
We express further concern that information relating to the alleged investigation by the Investigating Judge of Kos may have been leaked by State authorities to the Kathimerini newspaper, and that despite the names of Messrs. Dimitras and Olsen being excluded from the above-referenced article published therein, such a leak may have been intended to encourage the conflation of human rights work with human trafficking in the media and public eye, thereby undermining the work of human rights defenders supporting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
We stress that the launching of criminal proceedings based on the act of communicating information to the Greek authorities as to the presence of persons within the territory of Greece wishing to exercise their right to seek asylum would be inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, in particular the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.