Reporters Without Borders

Athens court urged to dismiss libel action against journalist

Published on Friday 17 September 2010.
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Reporters Without Borders condemns businessman Stavros Vitalis’ libel action against journalist Takis Michas, which an Athens court is to begin hearing on the 17 Septembrer. Vitalis is suing him over an article he wrote for the daily Eleftherotypi on 25 July 2009 in which he quoted from an article in the Serb weekly Global about the presence of Greek paramilitary forces at the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

A former “Greek volunteer,” Vitalis considers the use of the term “paramilitary” to be an insult to the military forces which he regards as “regular” because they were part of Bosnia’s Serbian army. He also disputes that these “contingents” participated in the massacres.

Michas is known for the quality and thoroughness of his reporting on a subject that is almost taboo in Greece. In his book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia,” he interviewed many people about the military support that “Greek volunteers” gave to Bosnia’s Serbs and criticised the past and current Greek governments for refusing to investigate these activities or release classified document that could shed light on them.

The libel action against Michas is surreal, and is clear case of judicial harassment. The only logical and acceptable response by the court would be to dismiss the case. Although he was not mentioned in the article, Vital claims that he was personally targeted. His lawsuit cannot be taken seriously. Despite claiming that his record as an officer in the Republika Srpska’s army is “well known,” Vitalis does not seem to want the media to take too much interest in his past.

Many Greek military officers and politicians do not want the veil lifted on this inglorious part of Greece’s modern history. Michas’ articles are courageous and salutary and he deserves more support from his fellow journalists, who should be calling for his acquittal.

The self-censorship practiced by the political class and much of the media about the presence of Greek paramilitary forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Srebrenica massacre is surprising and disturbing. The subject is clearly of public interest and should be treated seriously. The 15th anniversary of the massacre in July offered an opportunity to take a hard look at the role of the Greek authorities. It is not too late to do so.

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