3 Greek journalists set free after minister’s complaint

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Three journalists were released from custody Sunday following a complaint against them by Greece’s defense minister.

The publisher, editor-in-chief and political editor of daily paper “Fileleftheros” (Liberal) had voluntarily turned themselves in Saturday after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said an article in the paper’s Friday edition had defamed him.

The article alleged large-scale mismanagement of European Union funds that were provided to improve the living conditions for thousands of migrants and said Kammenos was connected to some businessmen who received funding. The report says that migrants in detention centers have benefited little but that businesses that were awarded projects, ranging from catering to plumbing, often without competitive tenders, habitually overcharged for their services.

“Not only do we stand by our reporting, but we will continue to expand it,” the paper’s editor-in-chief, Panayiotis Lampsias, told The Associated Press. “Other papers are taking it up, the investigation, as well.”

“It’s a battle for free expression,” Fileleftheros publisher Thanassis Mavridis told reporters after their release. “We managed to sleep last night. I wanted to ask Messrs. Kammenos, (Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras and (Media Minister Nikos) Pappas how well they slept last night. This is a question that will haunt them for years.”

Opposition parties attacked the government for a second straight day for what they called an attempt to muzzle criticism by the media.

“Two weeks ago, police were chasing our spokeswoman in our offices, to arrest her for defamation. Now, they have arrested journalists because they dared criticize the government. That’s how the ‘first left-wing government’ conceives democracy and freedom of the press,” said conservative lawmaker Costas Karagounis of the New Democracy party.

Under Greek law, defamation is considered a “flagrant” crime, meaning a complaint against a person can result in that person’s immediate detention. Some Greek legal scholars have claimed this is unconstitutional.

The prosecutor decided Sunday to investigate whether the minister had been defamed. He could have released the three journalists pending a trial date or even prolonged their detention. But he decided against pressing immediate charges.

The prosecutor’s decision is seen as at least a temporary setback for Kammenos, the leader of right-wing populist party Independent Greeks, who has been quick to threaten media critics with lawsuits. Commentators have pointed to the irony that Kammenos himself is prone to writing explosive tweets with insinuations and accusations that would put him in breach of defamation law were he not covered by parliamentary immunity.

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Fanis Karabatsakis contributed to this report.

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