Prosecutor releases ‘Fileleftheros’ journalists sued by defence minister

Three journalists working for the ‘Fileleftheros’ newspaper, who had been taken into custody based on a libel suit filed against them by Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, were on Sunday released at the orders of a public prosecutor.

The newspaper’s publisher Thanassis Mavridis, its director Panagiotis Lampsias and political desk editor Katerina Galanou appeared before the prosecutor on Sunday after spending the night at Exarchia police station jail, where they had presented themselves voluntarily after Kammenos asked for their detainment and prosecution using ‘in flagrante’ arrest procedures.

The suit filed against them by Kammenos concerned a front-page story run by the paper under the headline “Immoral Party,” in which it was suggested that funds destined to be spent on refugees and migrants had actually lined the pockets of people with connections to the minister.

The prosecutor assigned to the case on Sunday ordered a preliminary investigation into whether the offence of libel had been committed and gave instructions for the release of the three journalists.

Lampsias hailed the decision as a “victory for press freedom”, while in earlier statements the three journalists said their case was an issue of freedom of expression.

“This is not a victory for ‘Fileleftheros’ or of the journalists. It is a victory for democracy that the current government tried to gag,” Lampsias said.

Mavridis thanked the Athens journalists’ union ESHEA and other journalists that had supported them and asked Kammenos, Digital Policy and Media Minister Nikos Pappas and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras “whether they are able to sleep at nights”.

Also at the prosecutor to support the three journalists were main opposition New Democracy Vice President Kostis Hatzidakis and ND MP Kostas Karagounis, who attacked the government and said that “far from expressing the new, they express what is even older than the old” and are “unable to handle criticism.”

“Two weeks ago they were hounding our party spokesperson in our offices. Now they once again arrested journalists for daring to criticise the government, in other words for doing their job. That is how they perceive democracy and freedom of the press,” Karagounis noted.

In an announcement late on Saturday, ESHEA had criticised the visit paid by police to the offices of the Fileleftheros newspaper and its website to arrest the journalists sued by the minister and noted that “all parties of the democratic arc agree that the ‘in flagrante’ arrest procedure for press articles should be abolished. We call on the government to finally legislate for its abolition,” the announcement said, noting that this was directed against the freedom of the press and served to terrorise and lead journalists to self-censor.

Kammenos also issued a tweet in connection with the case late on Saturday, in which he noted that Lampsias’ son had worked in his office at the defence ministry “before Lampsias’ recruitment by Marinakis” and that he was therefore “well aware that I had no responsibility concerning the refugee issue or EU funds.”