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Rights activist harassed, threatened with death, after testifying in trial of Holocaust denier

(GHM/IFEX) - A prominent anti-racism activist who gave evidence in the trial of a Greek author who denies the Holocaust, has found himself the target of a hate campaign involving death threats being waged on the Internet.

Panayote Dimitras, of the human rights organisation GHM, testified in the December 2007 trial as a prosecution witness in the trial of author Kostas Plevris.

Plevris, a lawyer and author of the book "Jews: The Whole Truth", which denies the Holocaust, was convicted of inciting racial hatred and given a 14-month suspended sentence.

Following Dimitras' testimony, a journalist from the Greek state TV Channel NET called him "scum" and attempted to assault him. The video clip of the incident was later posted on the video-sharing site, YouTube, by an extreme right-wing youth group.

Below the video, insults and death threats were posted, as well as anti-Semitic messages, such as "Death to the Jewish bastards" and "No Jew should remain in our country".

Following the trial verdict, messages containing death threats against Dimitras have been posted on other Internet sites.

"The aim of attacks and threats against human rights defenders is to dissuade us from working to end discrimination in Greece. These crimes must not go unpunished," said Dimitras.

Dimitras was not the only target of threats and harassment. In the run-up to the trial, Jewish activists who testified against Plevris, as well as other GHM staff, were also subject to insulting, threatening and racist statements in extreme-right wing newspapers, and on at least one TV channel.

As Europe prepares to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January 2008, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and GHM urge the Greek authorities to take a stronger stand against anti-Semitic and racist behaviour.

Although the 2007 trial was the first of its kind in Greece, under legislation passed in 1979, Plevris was given a relatively light suspended sentence. And his co-defendants from the extreme right-wing paper, "Eleftheros Kosmos", were acquitted.

In 2003, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern that the Greek judicial authorities appeared unwilling to take on cases involving racism. MRG and GHM note that, despite the attempted assault on Dimitras taking place while the court was in session and in front of the bench, the presiding judge took no action.

MRG's legal case officer Cynthia Morel says: "It is extremely worrying that Mr. Dimitras should be the target of a hate campaign, simply for highlighting the poison of racist and anti-Semitic behaviour."

In a further extraordinary development, Plevris has launched a series of legal actions against representatives of GHM and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS), claiming he was defamed by their complaints, and seeking compensation.

But Morel says, "International human rights law clearly lays down that remarks which incite racial hatred are not protected under freedom of expression."

Since the Second World War, the Greek government has not officially recognised non-Greek minorities, apart from Muslims, within its borders. An estimated 60,000 Greek Jews were killed during the Holocaust. The Jewish community in Greece is believed to number approximately 5,000.

MRG is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide. GMH monitors, publishes, lobbies, and litigates on human and minority rights and anti-discrimination issues in Greece.

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