Costas Vaxevanis, the Greek investigative journalist who published details of prominent officials’ tax-evading Swiss bank accounts, has been acquitted of violating data protection laws.
“Instead of arresting the tax evaders, the journalist who published their names has been arrested,” said Emilios Avgoleas, an international banking law and finance professor at Edinburgh University. “It’s a reminder that in corrupt regimes around the globe, freedom of speech is repressed in order to serve vested interests.”
But the Vaxevanis case demonstrates that it is not only in authoritarian regimes that “freedom of expression – the bedrock of democracy – is under threat,” says a leading activist.
“Wherever you look, someone with power, somewhere in the world, is trying to prevent the truth from getting out. In dictatorships they often resort to violence. But usually those with power hide behind laws that, while technically legitimate, are designed to chill free speech,” writes John Kampfner, a former chief executive of Index on Censorship:
We think such measures are the preserve of places like China and Russia. And they are. In China the media are severely censored. Dissidents are routinely jailed. Western media are blocked online when they become inconvenient, as the New York Times was recently after revealing details of premier Wen Jiabao’s family wealth.
In Russia, investigative journalists are killed when they find out too much. The internet is now severely restricted. Members of the punk band Pussy Riot languish in penal colonies for protesting in church.
“But dangers also lurk in so-called democracies,” Kampfner notes.