Sea rescue in the Aegean: Greek secret service persecutes human rights observers

The government in Athens is targeting organisations and individuals who observe and document human rights violations. An „information management“ agency set up with EU funding is involved in the investigation.

Once again, Greek authorities are striking a blow against European human rights organisations. A total of ten people from different countries are alleged to have facilitated the „illegal entry of foreigners“ in the Aegean Sea since June 2020. This was announced by the police at a press conference last Monday. Those involved are also accused of espionage as well as „impeding investigations“. Some of them are also said to have violated immigration law. However, no arrests or searches have been made so far.

The investigations are targeting members of four different organisations working on the islands of Chios, Samos and Lesvos to monitor human rights, as well as six other persons. According to the pro-government newspaper „Kathimerini“, the Norwegian organisation Aegean Boat Report is among those affected.

Alleged „espionage“ for documenting pushbacks

The suspects allegedly operated „applications on the internet“ and informed about „migration flows“ from Turkey. With the help of „telephone connections“ they would have received coordinates of boats with refugees and passed them on to other activists, who would then have observed the course until arrival at the Greek mainland. During the exchange of information, the number of boat occupants and their medical condition were also of interest.

Presumably all of these allegations are true, because this is part of the self-imposed goal of organisations dedicated to human rights monitoring in Greece. Aegean Boat Report, for example, regularly compiles statistics on boat arrivals in Greece. The organisation also investigates so-called pushbacks by the Greek coast guard and publishes them online. The last of these entries dates on Monday, when the Greek police started their accusations. Some of the recordings documented by Aegean Boat Report come from the refugees themselves. They show the dangerous pushing away of the unseaworthy inflatable boats, shots in their direction or blows to the occupants.

At many incidents, the coast guard confiscates the outboard engines of inflatable boats and let the boats drift back into Turkish waters. In numerous cases, refugees who have already arrived on Greek islands are forced into boats or life rafts and also driven towards Turkey. On its website, the Turkish coast guard has posted hundreds of such pushbacks online with photos and videos. Last year, international media houses verified the reports and substantiated them with their own research.

The Greek authorities are now using the material published by Aegean Boat Report as evidence of alleged espionage activities. The photos and videos of pushbacks at the Sea of Aegean islands would therefore reveal classified information about Greek Coast Guard vessels and facilities. The suspects had allegedly also published photos and videos of pushbacks, which would have revealed classified information about Greek coast guard vessels and facilities.

Secret service spies itself in Turkey

In September 2020, the Greek police had made public similar investigations against 35 foreign nationals and members of various organisations from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Bulgaria with „Operation Alcmene“. On the radar of the authorities is e.g. the organisation Alarm Phone/Watch the Med, which is based in several countries and operates an emergency telephone for refugees on the high seas.

In addition to the Greek police, the migration ministry, the foreigners authority and the coast guard, the civil-military domestic secret service EYP and the anti-terror department DAEEB are also involved in the investigations. Through the Directorate for Information Management and Analysis (DIDAP), which is also participating and whose establishment was supported by EU funds in 2016, information on the persons concerned could be retrieved from EU databases. The agency acts as an international contact point for the processing of aircraft passenger data, among other things.

In the course of the investigation, two mobile phones were confiscated, which are attributed to two foreign activists. Further laptops and mobile phones were seized by the police in September after a raid on the ship „Mare Liberum“. No charges have been brought against them so far. So far, the police have also not presented any evidence to support their suspicions. This suggests that the measures are mainly aimed at intimidation.

In the past year, dubious investigation methods of the Greek authorities became known. To substantiate the alleged accusations, the EYP had sent two spies to Turkey. On behalf of the secret service, the two third-country nationals had boarded a boat to Lesbos in the Turkish port city of Izmir and subsequently reported details of their crossing.

Two Greek ships in a pushback in violation of international law. The government in Athens denies the widely documented accusations (Turkish Coast Guard).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.