The hostile environment in which human rights defenders, civil society and journalists work in Greece has been an issue of concern for several years. Smear campaigns targeting individuals defending human rights, cumbersome NGO registration procedures and undue pressure on journalists have undermined the protection of human rights and shrunk the civic space in the country. The ongoing criminalisation of individuals assisting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, as well as activists defending and promoting human rights in Greece, is part of this trend, which I have also observed in other member states of the Council of Europe.
As I already stressed in a letter I sent to the Greek authorities in May 2021, as well as in a Recommendation on ending pushbacks that I published in 2022, states have the duty to set up a legal framework which safeguards human rights and to ensure an environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders and civil society.
Regrettably, the prosecutions of 24 volunteers of a search and rescue NGO, as well as of other human rights defenders, such as Panayote Dimitras, a long-standing partner of my Office, go in the opposite direction. Targeting human rights defenders and individuals engaged in acts of solidarity is both incompatible with states’ international obligations and has a chilling effect on human rights work.
I urge the Greek authorities to ensure that human rights defenders and journalists can work safely and freely, by providing an enabling environment for their work and publicly recognising their important role in a democratic society.