Greece: Judicial harassment of migrants’ rights defenders Panayote Dimitras and Tommy Olsen

23/12/2022
Urgent Appeal
Photo: Tingey injury law firm

New information
GRE 003 / 1022 / OBS 076.1
Judicial harassment /
Stigmatisation
Greece
December 23, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in Greece.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) about the judicial harassment of Mr Panayote Dimitras and Mr Tommy Olsen in retaliation for their work defending migrants’ rights. Mr Dimitras is the GHM co-founder and spokesperson, and a member of the OMCT’s General Assembly. Mr Olsen is the founder of Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian NGO founded in 2018 that monitors the attempts of migrant individuals to cross the Aegean Sea, as well as the human rights violations committed against them, including illegal pushbacks.

On December 20, 2022, Panayote Dimitras appeared for interrogation before the Investigating Judge of the Kos Court of First Instance in the framework of a criminal case opened against him. He is accused of “forming or joining for profit and by profession a criminal organisation with the purpose of facilitating the entry and stay of third country nationals into Greek territory” under Articles 1, 12, 13(e), 14, 16, 17, 18, 26(a), 27, 45, 50, 51, 52, 53, 57, 79, 80, 94, 187 para. 1 of Law 4251/2014, also called Immigration and Social Integration Code.

Panayote Dimitras has been banned from carrying out any of GHM’s activities as a preventive measure pending trial. The prosecutor further requested house arrest for Mr Dimitras, while the investigative judge requested a ban on leaving the country, a 10,000 Euro bail, and by-weekly reporting to the police. A judicial council will arbitrate the remaining preventive measures to be imposed on Mr Dimitras in the upcoming days.

The Investigative Judge of Kos has opened a criminal investigation into Mr Tommy Olsen’s human rights activities in the framework of the same criminal case. The indictment bill issued by the Investigative Judge of Kos against Panayote Dimitras mentions that Tommy Olsen would have “facilitated the entry and residence of third country nationals into Greek territory” in cooperation with Mr Dimitras and two alleged human traffickers. The indictment further states that Mr Olsen would have sent a “message via e-mail to the Greek authorities including the details of the third country citizens, as well as their location in order for them to join the asylum procedures”. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Tommy Olsen had not received any official information about the criminal investigations and cases initiated against him.

These accusations relate to the alerts issued by Mr Dimitras to the Hellenic Police, the Coast Guard, the Greek migration authorities, the UN Refugee Agency in Greece and the Greek Ombudsman about the arrival of migrant individuals in the Greek islands of Kos and Farmakonisi on July 13, 2021. Mr Dimitras sent several emails to the above-mentioned authorities listing the names and nationality of the migrant individuals traveling on floating boats towards Greece in order to apply for asylum. In his emails, Mr Dimitras explicitly mentioned that the migrant individuals had contacted GHM to alert the organisation about their situation, that is, their presence on the islands, as well as their wish to apply for asylum.

The case file includes details about the Investigating Judge of Kos’ request to the Investigating Judge of Lesbos to provide information about a second criminal investigation against Tommy Olsen, as well as humanitarian and health care workers Ms Madi Williamson and Ms Ruhi Loren Akhtar, for “facilitating the illegal entry of foreigners into Greek territory through the Northeastern islands of the Aegean Sea”. None of them have been officially notified about this case.

The Observatory recalls that on October 10, 2022, Greece’s largest national newspaper Kathimerini, published leaked information about two criminal investigations and subsequent criminal cases allegedly filed against Panayote Dimitras and “a national of a Northern European country” on charges of “facilitating the entry of third country nationals into Greek territory" under Law 4251/2014 of Greece. The article did not mention Mr Dimitras’ name explicitly but used vague terms to describe him, including “the head of a human rights NGO” or “Greek head of the NGO. According to the newspaper, the investigations were initiated by the Greek Coast Guard jointly with the National Intelligence Service and were subsequently submitted to “the relevant prosecutor’s office”. The article further stated that the two criminal cases were at the hands of the investigating judge in the city of Kos.

Panayote Dimitras did not receive any official information about the criminal investigation and case initiated against him until November 18, 2022, and was given access to the case file only on December 9, 2022.

The Observatory strongly condemns the judicial harassment and smear campaigns against Panayote Dimitras, Tommy Olsen, Madi Williamson, Ruhi Loren Akhtar and all migrants’ rights defenders in Greece, as well as the ongoing denial of rights to migrants and their subsequent exposure to torture and ill-treatment in the context of collective and illegal expulsions.

Non-governmental organisations that work on migrants’ rights play an essential role to defend the human rights of people on the move in a context of systematic violations of international human rights standards by the Greek authorities, including illegal pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, as denounced in 2020 by the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT).The Greek state has consistently failed to submit the information concerning the alleged intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers and volunteers that was required by the UNCAT.

Yet, migrants’ rights defenders have been heavily criminalised for years. They have consistently been targeted for their legitimate work and have faced different types of attacks, including surveillance, judicial harassment, smear campaigns, entry bans and expulsion of the country. The Greek investigative authorities often leak alleged criminal investigations initiated against migrants’ rights defenders to the media, creating a climate of fear and a chilling effect among all rights defenders, as documented by the Observatory in its 2021 report “Europe: Open Season on Solidarity”. In several of these cases the human rights defenders have not been informed nor summoned to testify.

The Observatory calls on the Greek authorities to put an immediate end to the harassment, including at the judicial level, against Panayote Dimitras, Tommy Olsen, Madi Williamson, Ruhi Loren Akhtar as well as all NGOs and volunteers working in the country in the field of humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum-seekers. The Observatory further calls on the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights and humanitarian activities without fear of reprisals.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Greece, urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Panayote Dimitras, Tommy Olsen, Madi Williamson, Ruhi Loren Akhtar, as well as all human rights defenders in Greece;

ii. Put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Panayote Dimitras, Tommy Olsen, Madi Williamson and Ruhi Loren Akhtar and guarantee their rights to due process and fair trial during the judicial proceedings in their cases;

iii. Raise awareness and train administrators of justice to refrain from interpreting laws designed to fight organised crime against human rights defenders, organisations or against migrant individuals themselves;

iv. Implement General Policy Recommendation 16 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and refrain from criminalising the provision of social and humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants.

Addresses:

• Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Email: mail@primeminister.gr
• Minister of Justice Mr. Konstantinos Tsiaras, Email: grammateia@justice.gov.gr
• General Secretary for Justice and Human Rights, Mr. Panos Alexandris Email: ggdad@justice.gov.gr
• Permanent Representative of Greece, Ms. Anna Korka, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: grdel.gva@mfa.gr
• Ambassador of Greece, H.E. Eleftheria Galathianaki, Embassy of Greece in Brussels, Belgium, Email: gremb.bru@mfa.gr
• Permanent Representative of Greece, H.E. Andreas Papastavrou, Permanent Representation to the European Union (EU), Email: mea.bruxelles@rp-greece.be
• Greece’s Special Envoy on Combating Antisemitism at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Efstathios Lianos Liantis, Email: envoy.ihra@mfa.gr

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Greece in your respective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, December 23, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39
• Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18

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