The Parliament of Greece approved on Thursday a controversial justice ministry bill that introduces tougher penalties for serious crimes and the spreading of what the bill says is fake news by news organizations and social media.
Ruling New Democracy party’s 157 MPs voted in favor of the bill, as did Movement for Change (KINAL) MP Andreas Loverdos, who is a candidate for the leadership of the center-left party after the untimely death of Fofi Gennimata.
All opposition parties voted against the bill.
Greece introduces tougher sentences for heinous crime
The provisions in the bill impose tougher penalties for heinous crimes such as rape or sexual abuse of minors, which now carry a life sentence without exception, while a similar heavy sentence may be imposed on any individual causing a forest fire in which at least one person is killed.
The bill also introduces measures designed to increase the protection of vulnerable social groups and crack down on sex offenders, such as pushing back the date of offenses to prevent their write-off due to statutes of limitation and the way they are prosecuted.
This will bring Greek law in line with European conventions to protect the rights of victims.
A series of femicides have rocked Greece in 2020. The latest incident involved a 54-year-old man who stabbed his ex-wife to death in Ierapetra, Crete. This marked the 13th femicide in Greece in 10 months.
Controversy over provisions for fake news
Among the controversial provisions of the new law is Article 36, which journalists’ organizations say limits the freedom of the press.
“Anyone who publicly or via the internet spreads or disseminates in any way false news that is capable of causing concern or fear to the public or shattering public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defense capacity or public health shall be punished by imprisonment for at least three months, and a fine.
“If the act was repeatedly committed through the press or via the internet, the perpetrator is punished with imprisonment of at least six months and a fine. The actual owner or issuer of the instrument with which the acts of the previous paragraphs were performed is punished with the same penalty.
“Anyone who through negligence is guilty of any of the acts of the previous paragraph shall be punished by imprisonment of up to one year or a fine.”
The Greek journalists union ESIEA warned that “there is a danger that justice will intervene and restrict the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression of opinions about what is happening around us.”
The International Press Institute (IPI) also condemned the changes, saying before the passing of the legislation that “the draft law’s vague definition and punitive sanctions would undermine the freedom of the press and have a chilling effect at a time when independent journalism is already under pressure in Greece.”