Three journalists of the newspaper Fileleftheros who were detained on Saturday over an article alleging the mishandling of EU funds destined for migrant reception centers following a legal suit by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos were released on Sunday.
The journalists went to the Athens police headquarters on Saturday once they were informed about the legal action and stayed overnight. An Athens prosecutor on Sunday launched an investigation into the affair.
Panayiotis Lampsias, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, said the intervention was "shameful." "There is an issue with democracy when politicians in power believe that they can bring accusations against journalists whom they do not like." "It is shameful for all those who tolerate such an utterely depraved procedure."
"My colleagues cannot have the fear hanging over them that they might be the next at risk from some minister," he added. "The silence of SYRIZA which was a pioneer in the political defense of rights is shameful."
“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 [Digital Policy Minister Nikos] Pappas how well they slept last night. This is a question that will haunt them for years.”
The detentions provoked the reactions of political parties and the Athens journalists' union. "If someone believes that the publication of an article slurs an individual or that the article is incorrect, they can ask for their opinion to be published, so that their honor and reputation is restored," the union said. It added that the so-called aftoforo – a law permitting a swift hearing if an arrest is made within 48 hours of an alleged crime – should not apply in the case of media reports.
The union called on the government to abolish the law as it applies to the media, saying that it jeopardizes freedom of information and terrorizes journalists.
Justice Ministry sources commended that the law applies equally to all citizens. They added that the government has already modified the law in question, adding that there would be fresh discussion on the new penal code in due cuorse.
The main conservative opposition accused the government of "yet another show of arrogance and authoritarianism" while the centrist Movement for Change called for a stop to "the criminalization of political life."
Commenting, veteran leftist and composer Mikis Theodorakis said in a staement that "the muzzing of the press always marked the beginning of dark developments" and called for "democratic vigilance," noting that he foresaw "unpleasant surprises in the near future."