Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Expands Expression
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The Athens Court of Appeal overturned the 2015 criminal conviction of Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis for defamation. The charges had been brought on the basis of an article published in 2013 that allegedly defamed a prominent Greek businessman. The first instance court had found Vaxevanis guilty and sentenced him to a three-year suspended prison term.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It should be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding the case will be updated as official sources become available.
Kostas Vaxevanis is a prominent Greek investigative journalist and the director of the Greek magazine “Hot Doc.” In April 2013, “Hot Doc” published an investigative piece written by Vaxevanis on the alleged role of Andreas Vgenopoulos, a well-known Greek businessman, in the 2012 Cyprus financial crisis. In addition to the article, the magazine’s edition cover image depicted Vgenopoulos in the foreground, smoking a cigar, while a Euro symbol emblazoned with the Cypriot flag sinks into the sea behind him.
Vgenopoulos complained to the prosecutor’s office, which in turn brought charges of defamation against Vaxevanis and Yiannis Symeonides, another journalist from Hot Doc. The charges were brought under the Greek Penal Code, Article 363 that penalizes “aggravated defamation” with imprisonment of up to 3-months and a fine. The law defines the crime as defamation in which the information was false and the perpetrator knew it to be false.
In March 2015, a first instance court in Athens found Vaxevanis guilty of criminal defamation and sentenced him to a three-year suspended prison term. It is reported that Vaxenavis unsuccessfully attempted to use the defense of truth to exonerate himself from the charges.
On September 12, 2016, a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the Athens Court of Appeal acquitted Kostas Vaxevanis from charges brought under Article 363 of the Greek Penal Code.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
International and European standards of freedom of expression dictate that defamation should not be criminalized. In upholding these values, the Court is expanding freedom of expression. In the words of Vaxinevis, the judgment was “surely not only a win for journalism and the truth, but also a restoration of justice’s function and validity.”
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Greek Criminal Code, Article 363
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