Censorship or electronic muzzle?

Telecom subsidiary OTE demands network blocking: Take Indymedia off the net!

The grassroots journalistic media platform Indymedia Athens has come under the spotlight of Greek politics. There is a threat of shutdown and a network blockage.

Especially during December, Indymedia served as a source of information about the Athens riots, but was also used as a coordination center. Indymedia, as an international network, serves, among others, left- or right-wing extremist contemporaries as a platform for their publications, and because of this has already been the target of attacks by conservative politicians in many countries (update: for right-wing populist Schill, even the RAF is still active on Indymedia). Current reports athens.indymedia about police actions and assaults during the "Cleanup" against illegal immigrants. Critics of the crackdown on immigrants organize themselves on Indymedia.

Indymedia off the net or total blocking for TH Athens

Greek national telecommunications giant OTE, in which Deutsche Telekom has a 30 percent stake, has ied two "exodika" (a Greek form of warning letter) so far demanding that state-owned EDET immediately shut down all network access by the Greek Indymedia group.

The last one, on 7. The warning ied in July states that the shutdown must take place within five days. If this does not happen, OTE will cut the fiber optic cables connecting the Athens Technical University to the Internet. OTE’s letter points out that the fiber optic cables were provided for academic, non-commercial use only. Therefore, the feed of Indymediaseiten is a clear breach of contract. Because, the text continues, these sites were not intended to disseminate science.

EDET, as a state-owned enterprise of the Greek Ministry of Development, is responsible for the networking of schools and universities and reacted with a press release both to the warning and to its publication with commentary in right-wing conservative media.

The network operators answered on 7. In July, the first warning from OTE was ied on 30 July. June (They claim that EDET is only responsible for the technology of the physical network, and is therefore not available as a contact for questions of censorship of content. This control function is neither legally nor organizationally within the competence of the EDET.

No hard drive, no charges

The network operation of Indymedia via university servers gives the operators a protection against prosecution. University asylum prevails at Greek universities. As a consequence of the warning ied on 17. Since the bloody suppression of student protests against the military dictatorship of that time (1967-74) in November 1973, academic asylum, which is anchored in the constitution, is politically regarded as a "sacred cow. All attempts to soften it are rigorously punished by the people. Most recently, in the fall of 2007, the then-incumbent Minister of Education, Marietta Giannakou, lost her parliamentary seat despite her party’s election victory. She had clashed with students (Student riots in Greece). Giannakou’s political comeback did not come until the 2009 European elections, when she was nominated as the top candidate by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis despite criticism within the party.

Academic asylum guarantees protection from prosecution to anyone on university property. It is forbidden for the state authorities to enter the premises in an official capacity without a prior decision of the Rectorate. This in turn protects the hard drives of Indymedia servers from seizure. Without hard drive files as evidence, law enforcement agencies have no means to take legal action against Indymedia.

Freedom of the press and its limitations

Greece has a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press. However, this freedom is de facto limited. On the one hand, many media are dependent on state advertising revenues, making them easy targets for overly critical reporting. On the other hand, judges and prosecutors in particular like to cite journalists in court for critical reporting. Even criticism of a court ruling or investigative authorities is perceived as "interference with the independence of the judiciary" and is prosecuted as a result. A lapsed, judgmental characterization of a judicial functionary is considered an insult to the majesty in the process. But this is precisely what makes – protected by the academic asylum – Indymedia. It is difficult to prove without corpus delicti in which place the justiciable act took place.

In other cases, however, when it comes to the protection of minorities or anti-Semitic slogans, the judiciary is more tolerant (acquittal of Holocaust supporters and anti-Semites).

Law Order: Background and history

In December 2008, shortly after the shooting death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, Indymedia was one of the first media to report the event. During the night of 6 a.m., after the protests. Although police helicopters were already circling over downtown Athens the next morning after the riots that began on December 12, 2008, no information was available from the radio. (Protests in Greece continue)

As a result of the December riots, the Karamanlis government came under increasing prere (Greek government in notes). Already politically tarnished by multiple political scandals and affairs, the government now appeared powerless to safeguard internal security, and was repentant and conscious of guilt. Both private and state media propagated that the police had been ordered to exercise restraint for fear of further escalation. Nevertheless, there were attacks by frustrated officials who were insulted from all sides. Protesters accused police MAT special forces of excessive brutality against peaceful protesters, shopkeepers complained of lack of protection against stone-throwers and looters. The country’s economy came to an almost complete standstill.

The Greek parliament, which was closed prematurely before the European elections to amnesty politicians. Image: W. Aswestopoulos

A prime minister in search of a turnaround

Karamanlis first tried to stop his government’s downward trend by reshuffling the cabinet. Shaken by further scandals, Karamanlis closed the parliamentary session early in May. In this way, he prevented the prosecution of the incriminated politicians on the basis of current Greek law. Consequently, his party suffered a severe defeat in the European elections in June.

Contrary to the European trend toward a shift to the right, the PASOK Socialists won the elections. The second winner was the right-wing party LAOS, which doubled its share of the vote to 7.15%. The orthodox LAOS alliance, founded by Georgios Karatzaferis, a former Karamanlis party stalwart, had lured many voters away from the prime minister’s party with a "law and order" campaign. Especially the ie of illegal immigrants is close to the heart of LAOS. They perceive them as a threat. Starting from the right-wing fringe, the journalist Karatzaferis also managed to win the hearts of his voters with catchy social slogans. He openly admits in interviews that he copied the relevant program from Oskar Lafontaine.

Athens’ new police force "Delta" also monitors gangway zones. Image: W. Aswestopoulos

The immigrants as defenseless sacrificial lamb

Tied to EU stability pact, Karamanlis cannot introduce social reforms. He is much more condemned to strict austerity and tax increases. Even new taxes are being introduced, putting a strain on both the economy and the coffers of the burghers.

In this quandary, the prime minister hopes to raise his profile by taking strong action against the defenseless immigrants. Tougher laws to keep asylum seekers off Greek streets. Karamanli’s pleas to his European colleagues to support him financially fell on deaf ears.

His government is therefore striving to exceed the demands of LAOS and is enacting ever stricter laws. For example, since 18. June:

  1. The maximum period of detention pending deportation was increased from the previous three to six to twelve months. This, according to the lawmakers, is to stop racism. The detention required is intended to prevent the rejected asylum seeker from committing criminal offences and thus becoming a danger to society. The asylum seeker is already considered dangerous if he is charged with an offense that is threatened with more than 3 months of imprisonment. A conviction is not required.
  2. who helps an illegal immigrant to escape is punished with a prison sentence up to 10 years. In addition, must pay a fine of at least 20.000 euros are paid. This pas also affects those who act out of ignorance or with humanitarian intent. Commercial aiding and abetting a fugitive is punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison (previously two) and at least 50.000 euro fine threatened. A person who, together with another person, facilitates the illegal crossing of a border is already considered a professional escape facilitator.

Even unsuspecting tourists or truck drivers are now threatened with imprisonment. Daring refugees regularly jump onto trucks or car trailers in the ports of Patras and Igoumenitsa. Individual tourists reported their arrest even before the new law was passed. For example, a pair of German friends were detained for days and handed over to the summary court because Palestinians had hidden in an unattended moment in the boat trailer.

Immigrants look out for police patrol in side street. As black marketeers they must always be able to pack their belongings quickly. Image: W. Aswestopoulos

A fourfold increase in the length of detention requires adequate accommodation capacity. The government is therefore planning to set up special prisons in disused army and air force barracks. The application for political asylum does not guarantee protection against imprisonment, which is criticized not only by Indymedia, but also by Amnesty, for example. However, Indymedia in particular has taken it upon itself to take action against increasing xenophobia. Personified bogeyman of Indymedia activists is LAOS.

A parliamentary question and its consequences

Ilias Polatidis, a member of parliament for LAOS, called on the government to take action against Indymedia through parliamentary questions as early as April.

Obviously Karamanlis, at present again because of a faux pas of his government under prere, wanted to score with the electorate of LAOS with hard action against Indymedia. His Aubenminister Dora Bakojianni had allowed, with Karamanlis backing, that a state plane of the northern neighbor with the inscription "Makedonjia" was allowed to land on Corfu. A clear affront to nationally conscious Greeks, who have been in a name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (officially recognized internationally as FYROM) for almost twenty years now.

Indymedia receives parliamentary support only from the left-wing alliance SYRIZA. This pays alongside the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) to the advocates of a more humane asylum policy. SYRIZA, however, was also the only party to openly side with the rioters in the December riots. The protest party, in contrast to LAOS, had lost votes in the European elections. The censorship war over Indymedia is thus also a proxy war.