Greece: smears & threats against human rights defender Iasonas Apostolopoulos (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Greece on 19 July 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 13 September 2022.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Govenment's response

BACKGROUND

Topic: smears and threats directed at human rights defender Iasonas Apostolopoulos.

Mr. Iasonas Apostolopoulos is a human rights defender of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and former engineer. He has worked in search and rescue operations in seas at the borders of the European Union since 2015. He currently works for the Italian association Mediterannea Saving Humans, coordinating search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean.

Concerns as to the alleged intimidation, criminalisation and restriction of the work of defenders of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have been communicated to the Government of Greece by multiple UN Special Procedures mandate holders on several occasions previously (see GRC 4/2021, GRC 1/2021 and GRC 2/2020). We thank the Government for its continued engagement on these matters, however, in light of the information detailed below, we express concern that some human rights defenders working in these areas continue to suffer from a hostile environment.

ALLEGATIONS

On 11 November 2021, an article allegedly referring to Mr. Apostolopoulos was published on the website of the Greek media outlet Capital.gr. The article allegedly referred to Mr. Apostolopoulos as a humanitarian-for-hire collaborating with people smugglers, and implied he was engaged in espionage and that he was responsible, along with other humanitarian actors, for the deaths of people crossing the Aegean Sea. On 5 January 2022, Mr. Apostolopoulos sent a letter to the editorial director of the outlet, as well as the journalist who had authored the article, requesting the withdrawal of the piece from the outlet’s website and the publication of an apology. On 14 January 2022, Capital.gr published the letter sent by Mr. Apostolopoulos on its website, alongside comments from Capital.gr and the journalist in question. In doing so, the outlet failed to redact Mr. Apostolopoulos’s personal data, leading to his family address being shared widely on social media, alongside a photograph of his home’s front door.

On 10 May 2022, Mr. Apostolopoulos participated in an event at the European Parliament, during which he criticised the migration policy of the European Union and several EU Member States, including Greece, speaking, among other things, about the deaths and disappearances of people in the Mediterranean Sea, fear of criminalisation impeding people from acting in solidarity with asylum seekers, and pushbacks alleged to be carried out by the Hellenic Coastguard in the Aegean.

On 7 June 2022, his intervention was referred to in comments made on social media by the current Greek Government Spokesperson and Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister. Posting on Facebook, he claimed that Mr. Apostolopoulos had insulted Greece by making accusations about the Hellenic Coastguard at the European Parliament, describing his words as slander. These comments were subsequently picked up by Greek media outlets, following which, stigmatising comments targeting Mr. Apostolopoulos, including death threats, began to be posted on social media.

On 17 June 2022, in an article published on the Lefimerida site, a Greek MEP also responded to Mr. Apostolopoulos’s intervention at the EU Parliament event, referring to him as an “internal enemy”, accusing him of spreading fake news, and calling for the Greek Public Prosecutor to take action against him. At the time of the finalisation of this communication, Mr. Apostolopoulos has continued to receive death threats on an almost daily basis, and regularly targeted with abusive messages online.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our fears for the security of Mr. Apostolopoulos given the intensity of the threats he has received. We underline our strong concern as to the stigmatising comments by representatives of the Government which would appear to have encouraged smears and threats against him, in direct connection with his legitimate acts of expression concerning well-evidenced allegations of human rights violations.

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