Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Contracts Expression
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In July 2016, the Northern Aegean Court of Appeals of Greece affirmed a guilty verdict against journalist and writer Stratis Balaskas for an article he wrote in 2013, in which he referred to a high school principal as the “Golden Dawn and neo-Nazi headmaster.”
Balaskas’ characterizations stemmed from several articles published by the principal, in which he had argued in favor of the Aryan race and had called upon all nationalists to unite for the cause of preserving racial purity and supporting the ideas of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party.
The appeals court upheld the lower court’s finding that the use of “neo-Nazi” amounted to insult, a criminal offense punishable under Article 361 of the Greek Criminal Code. The Appeals court, however, reduced the prison sentence from six to three months.
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.
Balaskas, chief editor of the local newspaper Empros in Mytilene on the island of Lesvos, wrote a commentary in November 2013, criticizing the extreme views of a local high school principal contained in a publication by the principal on his website on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising, a student-driven revolt against a dictatorial regime.
In the article, the principal had described the uprising as a myth and a lie. Prior to that, the principal had also voiced his extreme views on several websites and blogs, including a web platform of the Greek Ministry of Education.
He had allegedly called upon all Greek nationalists, including teachers and parents, to unite in order to fight for the preservation of “racial purity” and to give their vote to Golden Dawn, a far right political party that has been described by scholars and media as neo-Nazi and fascist. In his article, Balaskas referred to the principal as the “Golden Dawn and neo-Nazi headmaster.”
In response, the principal brought criminal charges against Balaskas for insult under Article 361 of the Greek Criminal Code. Later, the Court of Mytilene found Balaskas guilty of insult and sentenced him to six months in prison.
In July 2016, the Northern Aegean Court of Appeals upheld the guilty verdict against Balaskas for insult but lowered the prison term from six to three months. The appeals court agreed with the lower court that Balaskas’ use of the term “neo-Nazi” amounted to the criminal offense of insult under Article 361 of the Greek Criminal Code.
Balsaskas’ lawyer, however, argued that Balaskas’ aim was not to insult the plaintiff but “to inform citizens about the public actions of an educator.” He added that there was no intention or malice on the part of his client.
The lawyer also cited decisions of the Greek Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights that have ruled against the imprisonment of journalists for defamation.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision has a chilling effect on media freedom to report on matters of public interest. Specifically, it upholds the use of criminal defamation laws to inhibit critical media coverage, silence dissent and protect political and economic interests.
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