The International Press Institute (IPI) and its partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today voiced concerns over attempts by Greek authorities to restrict access for reporters and photojournalists to the area where refugees and asylum seekers have been living in squalid conditions following the fire that destroyed the Moria camp.
In a letter to the Chief of the Police and the Minister for Citizen Protection, MFRR partners said Greek authorities were undermining press freedom and threatening the public’s right to know about a matter of heightened public interest by restricting access for media workers.
They called on Lesbos police to stop the arbitrary restrictions against members of the media in accessing the area around the site at Kare Tepe, near Mytilene, where Greek authorities are quickly constructing another temporary camp.
IPI is concerned by reports of some journalists and photojournalists trying to document aftermath of #MoriaCamp fire on #Greek island of #Lesbos being restricted from entering certain areas by police.
@MediaFreedomEU alert ⬇️ EPA-EFE/ DIMITRIS TOSIDIS
— IPI – The Global Network for Press Freedom (@globalfreemedia) September 14, 2020
Dear Minister Chrisochoidis,
Dear Police Lieutenant General Karamalakis,
We are writing to express our concern about reports that since 9 September 2020, a number of journalists and photographers on the island of Lesbos have been intermittently restricted from reporting from an area where thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are being held without accommodation or sanitation after fires destroyed large areas of the Moria Registration and Identification Centre.
We note that while some media workers who were trying to document the scene were able to gain access, others say that police officers blocked their entry without proper explanation or justification. Several reporters and a photojournalist report that they were told this was because of an ongoing “military operation”. When asked about the operation, police officers at the scene reportedly said that the order came from the police chief.
Others report that they are unable to enter due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19. Although journalists were eventually allowed to enter the area from 4pm on Sunday 13 September, intermittent restrictions restarted on Monday and continue at the time of writing. The arbitrariness of these practices establishes an unequal and uncertain working environment for journalists and media workers.
Blocking journalists’ access to the site constitutes significant interference with their work that prevents them from playing their vital role as “public watchdogs”. It also adversely affects their ability to provide accurate and reliable information. In this regard, the European Court of Human Rights has found that the matter of how refugees and asylum seekers are accommodated, whether the State fulfils its international obligations towards them and whether this vulnerable group has the ability to fully enjoy their human rights are “undisputedly newsworthy and of great public significance” (Szurovecz v Hungary, App. No. 15428/16, 8 October 2019, para. 61).
We consider that, given the refugees’ circumstances currently on the island of Lesbos alongside the ongoing refugee crisis and the European community’s response to it, there is a heightened public interest in receiving information on the matter and very little scope for restricting journalists’ access.
Accordingly, we urge you to ensure that journalists and other media workers are able to safely access the relevant sites on Lesbos, in line with Greece’s obligations under international law.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
This statement has been coordinated by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.