The cold-blooded killing on Friday of prominent Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz marked yet another dark day for media freedom in the European Union and has sent shockwaves through the country’s journalistic and media community.
Karaivaz was gunned down outside his home in broad daylight after he returned home from a shift on the daytime show on STAR TV when he was ambushed by two men on a scooter and shot ten times with a silenced weapon.
While it remains too early to point to a clear motive, Greece‘s deputy minister for citizen protection has suggested a link between the assassination and organized crime, and police have described the murder as a “professional hit”.
The journalist’s profession and the execution-style manner of his murder have raised suspicion that the killing was linked in some way to his three decades of reporting into organized crime and mafia groups, shining the spotlight on the issues Karaivaz had been reporting on at the time of his death.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis joined EU leaders, MEPs and Greek politicians from across the political spectrum in expressing grief over the murder and called for the “swift resolution” of the investigation.
Murdering a journalist is a despicable, cowardly act.
Europe stands for freedom. And freedom of press may be the most sacred of all. Journalists must be able to work safely.
My thoughts are with the family of George Karaivaz. I hope the criminals are soon brought to justice.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) April 9, 2021
Since then, police investigators and forensic teams have been sifting through evidence and security camera footage from nearby shops and homes in the southern Athens suburb of Alimos where Karaivaz lived to gather information about the killers’ movements and planning.
Though no motive has yet been established by police, media reports said police were exploring the possibility that the masked killers previously timed the journalist’s commute home from STAR TV office and rehearsed the assassination in advance.
Reports have quoted police sources suggesting they believe the assassins were likely foreign contract killers who may have travelled to Greece after being hired by Greek mafia groups. Police are looking into recent hotel and Airbnb bookings in the vicinity along with recent flight and travel logs.
Officers are also expanding the investigation into the two suspects – the scooter driver and the passenger who fired the shots – to include possible accomplices who may have previously followed Karaivaz or informed the assassins about his movements on the day he was killed.
On Saturday, an autopsy report found that Karaivaz was shot six times in the chest, twice in the head, once in the neck and once in a hand. Initial laboratory tests on the 17 bullet casings from the silenced 9-gauge pistol have found the murder weapon was “clean” and had not previously been used to commit another crime. A second examination to confirm the conclusions is underway.
Meanwhile, investigators are also interviewing colleagues, associates and family members and examining the journalist’s recent work to try and establish who and what he had been investigating in the weeks and months leading up to his murder.
One of Greece’s most experienced crime reporters with 32 years’ experience in journalism, Karaivaz had worked for some of Greece’s leading newspapers and TV channels, including Greek TV network Ant1. Since 2017, he had worked for the TV channel STAR and ran the news website bloko.gr, which reports on crime and policing.
#Greece: The broad daylight murder of journalist Giorgos Karaivaz has sent shockwaves around Europe. While it is still too early to point to a clear motive, the Greek deputy minister for citizen protection has suggested a link between the assassination & organized crime groups pic.twitter.com/3oQfkkGeLG
— IPI – The Global Network for Press Freedom (@globalfreemedia) April 11, 2021
His killing bore a tragic resemblance to the previous murder of a journalist in Greece, which occurred in 2010 when radio manager, blogger and investigative journalist Socratis Giolias was also gunned down outside his home in Athens. Giolias shot 16 times in attack attributed to the far-left terrorist organization the Sect of Revolutionaries, which after the killing released a statement warning: “Journalists, this time we came to your door, but next time you will find us in your homes.”
Though investigators found what they believed to be the burnt-out wreck of the abandoned getaway car and ballistic testing identified the bullets as being fired by the same guns used by the Sect, no one was ever charged or prosecuted, leaving numerous unanswered questions and impunity engrained.
During the decade in between the two killings, journalist safety in Greece has continued to be a major concern for press freedom groups. Physical attacks on media workers are not uncommon and firebomb attacks and vandalism of newspaper offices from extreme political groups continue to occur.
In December 2018, a bomb blast damaged a building in Athens housing the headquarters of the private radio and television network Skai and the daily newspaper Khatimerini, but there were no casualties. Anti-terrorist police opened an investigation that focused on Greek extremist groups.
In 2019, the car belonging to Greek CNN Mina Karamitrou, who focused on police reporting, exploded after flammable liquid was placed under the vehicle. No one was injured but the car was destroyed.
Most recently, in July 2020 the controversial tabloid newspaper editor Stefanos Chios survived a suspected assassination attempt after he was shot in the neck and chest by a hooded man. Investigations into the shooter and the movie are still underway.
Due to the regularity of these attacks and other threats against journalists, police protection for journalists in Greece is commonplace. However, at the time of his death police confirmed Karaivaz had not been under protection as no threats against him had been reported to authorities.
The reporter had previously been under investigation by Greek police over allegations he accepted money from a reformed gangster who was later murdered in 2019, according to media reports. He had strongly rejected the claims and pointed to articles he had published about alleged corruption within the police.
In a statement published by the Panhellenic Federation of Police Officers after his murder, the force said Karaivaz had reported with integrity on the many facets of policing for many years, “deepening in it, exercising constructive criticism, sometimes harsh, but always in good faith”.
In the wake of the journalist’s funeral, which was held in his hometown on Sunday, the focus will now turn to establishing the motive and ensuring those behind the killing are swiftly identified and brought to justice.
Multiple press freedom groups including IPI and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have been joined by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in urging Greek authorities to ensure the investigation is carried out with the utmost care and detail and for police to swiftly establish the motivation behind the attack.
If confirmed, this would be the first targeted assassination of a journalist in the European Union in three years.
After the previous killings – the 2017 car bomb assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the murder of Slovak investigative reporter Ján Kuciak in 2018 – authorities have managed to only secure convictions for the gunmen. In both cases, the masterminds have thus far evaded justice.
It is vital for the fight against impunity for attacks against journalists in the EU that all perpetrators, go-betweens and masterminds are identified and prosecuted in this case. A culture of impunity in which the gunmen are jailed but those responsible for ultimately ordering the hit remain free – a hallmark of impunity across the globe – cannot be allowed to become further engrained in the EU.
The aim of such heinous killings of journalists is both to silence their reporting but also to intimidate any others who dare to investigate. To honour Karaivaz’s memory, it is essential that his investigations are taken up by others and that any wrongdoing he had identified is brought to light. For all those considering silencing a journalist, it must be made abundantly clear that killing a journalist does not kill the story.
This article by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.