On November 9, 2021, the Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel attended a joint press conference of the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte. She posed a question to the Greek Prime Minister regarding reports of pushbacks of refugees by the Greek authorities. The refoulement, or illegal return, of refugees, according to the former president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Lino-Alexandre Siciliano, is prohibited by Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the Geneva Convention.
The exchange proceeded as follows:
Ingeborg Beugel: Prime Minister Mitsotakis, when – at last – will you stop lying? Lying about the pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Greece? Please don’t insult mine and neither the intelligence of all the journalists in the world, there has been overwhelming evidence and you keep denying and lying. This is like narcissistic abuse.
Why are you not honest? Why don’t you say: “Brussels left us alone, we waited for 6 years, nobody did anything, we need to relocate, they don’t do it, now I have my say and yes I do cruel barbarian pushbacks.” Why did you stop knocking on Brussels’ door for relocation?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts, when this country has been dealing with the migration crisis of unpresented intensity, has been saving hundreds if not thousands of people at sea.
We just rescued 250 people in danger of drowning south of Crete. W e are doing this every single day, rescuing people at sea, while at the same time,yes, we are intercepting boats that come from Turkey, as we have the right to do in accordance with the European regulation; and waiting for the Turkish coast guard to come and pick them up to return them to Turkey.
So rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalizing migration systematically, pushing people in a desperate situation from a safe country. Because I need to remind you the people who are in Turkey are not in danger, their life is not in danger, and you should put the blame on others and not us.
We have a tough but fair policy on migration, we have processed and given the right to protection to 50,000 people in Greece, including tens of thousands of Afghans, who have been receiving…
Allow me, have you visited the new camps on our islands? Have you been to Samos?
Ingeborg Beugel: Yes I have. I was one of the first.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No, you have not been to Samos. Please, you have not been. Look, you will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this?
I am answering now, and you will not interrupt me. In the same way that I listened to you very carefully. If you go to Samos you will find an impeccable camp, with impeccable conditions, funded by EU money, with clean facilities, with playgrounds for the children to play, no comparison to what we had in the past.
This is our policy, we will stand by it and I will not accept anyone pointing the finger at this government and accusing it of inhuman behavior.
Just hours later, Ms. Beugel was threatened and attacked on the street, as a result of which she was forced to leave Greece temporarily. She said in an interview after the attack: “I took advice from the Dutch embassy, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Journalists’ Union. My decision comes after the threats I have received. There is not only a ‘post-modern’, digital witch-hunt going on in the country at the moment, but also a real ‘witch burning’,” She reported having received threats ‘that they would throw me into the sea to drown like an immigrant, and send me to Turkey to be raped.’
“The IPI global network today expresses regret over the involuntary departure of Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel from Greece, after she faced physical and online threats following a heated exchange with the Greek prime minister over refugee pushbacks in the Aegean Sea. IPI stands in full support and solidarity with Beugel and calls on Greece to provide a safe working environment for all journalists.”
“The threats and violence against Beugel, as well as her involuntary departure from Greece, are unacceptable”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Journalists fulfilling their watchdog role and asking uncomfortable questions – however pointedly – about a matter of clear public interest should never face such extreme intimidation. The shameful and coordinated attempt to discredit Beugel’s work and bully her out of the country raises yet more worrying questions about press freedom in Greece.”
Freedom of the press is protected in Greece by Article 14 of the Constitution, which prohibits censorship, and provides that everyone is able to express and disseminate their thoughts orally, in writing and through the press, which is free.
On 18 November, six MEPs questioned the European Parliament in relation to the systematic defamation campaign against Ms. Beugel, asking to know what the European Commission was going to do to protect journalists and freedom of speech until the upcoming anti-SLAPP directive is implemented by the Member States.
In a state that adheres to the rule of law, both individual rights and the freedom of the press are protected. Journalists have the right to practice their work freely and independently, without censorship or influence.
Despite the guarantee of the freedom of the press by Article 14 of the Constitution, in this case the journalist Ingeborg Beugel was verbally attacked by the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for a question she asked about the reports of illegal pushbacks by Greece, an issue that concerns the public interest and the application of international law for the protection of refugees.
The attacks on Ms. Beugel and the attempts to discredit her raise serious questions about the protection of the freedom of the press in Greece, as well as the protection of journalists from threats, intimidation and violence against them.
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