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ARMED GROUPS SILENCING CRITICS

Armed groups in Greece are resorting to attacking media houses, non-governmental organisations and reporters themselves to silence them, report the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) - an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The latest victim was the media house of the historical daily "Apogevmatin" in Athens, which was stormed by masked men carrying iron bars and throwing stones on 26 February, reports IFJ. The building was extensively damaged.

"Journalism is coming under sustained violent attack," said IFJ. "It is time for the authorities to act to provide protection for media and their staff and to crackdown on those who are trying to intimidate media by acts of wanton violence."

A couple of days earlier on 24 February, a hand grenade was thrown at a facility of an immigrant support network in Athens, causing material damage but no injuries, says GHM. The Social and Political Rights Network, headed by leftist activists, is a well-known meeting place for various immigrant groups in Athens. The victims of the attack believe that it was carried out by neo-Nazis celebrating the anniversary of the founding of Germany's Nazi party NSDAP on 24 February 1920.

On 17 February, Alter TV, a private television station in Athens, was targeted by armed men who forced their way into the station and fired shots and exploded devices shortly before the main news broadcast, report SEEMO and IFJ. They were thought to be members of Sekta Epanastaton, a recently established extremist group in Greece.

A week prior to the attack, a letter sent to the daily newspaper Ta Nea threatened to kill well-known journalists working for the country's largest TV stations, such as Alter TV. Police have yet to release an official statement about the identity of those believed to be behind the shooting.

Not only are media houses being targeted, so are the journalists themselves. According to SEEMO, Abdulhalim Dede was assaulted by an unknown man on 19 February while he was on-air in Komotini, Greece, during the morning programme "Kalimera Ellada", broadcast by Athens-based Antenna TV.

Dede, publisher and director of the newspaper "Trakyanin Sesi" and owner of the radio station ISIK FM in Komotini, is known for his promotion of the rights of the Turkish-speaking population in the region, and has been targeted for it over the years. The assault left him hospitalised for several days.

The IFEX members condemned the attacks and are urging the authorities to take active steps to protect journalists and the right to free expression.

The attacks "are presumably carried out by persons or groups who in this way express their 'disagreement' with the views expressed by the victims of their attacks and obviously aim at intimidating them hoping that they may be silenced," said GHM.

"The failure of police to arrest even one perpetrator, as well as the lukewarm condemnation of such acts, encourages those who carry out such attacks as they believe that they can act with impunity. It is feared that the alarming escalation, if unchecked, may soon produce injuries or loss of lives," GHM added.

Visit this link:
- IFEX Greece page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/199/
(4 March 2009)

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