With support from UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund, CRNI has recruited a new network of Legal Experts around the world, both practicing lawyers and academics, these bolstering our existing roster of Regional Representative cartoonists. In a series of interviews we get to know a selection of these experts better; today’s subject is Panayota (Penny) Karageorgi, a public, international and European Union lawyer based in Greece. Ms. Karageorgi specialises in human rights, anti-discrimination law, religious freedom and data protection.
1. Our cartoonists are consistently expressing anxiety about criminalisation. In your view, are they right to be worried?
In answering this question, some geographical criteria need to be addressed. For instance, prosecution and criminalisation of cartoonists is a quite common phenomenon in the world’s most authoritarian regimes, where human rights are consistently violated and there is no space for political freedom. Such incidents have occurred in countries like Turkey, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. In that sense, cartoonists who live and work in these countries face a high risk of being criminalised, meaning that their concerns are in such cases justified.
In Europe, freedom of expression is considered a basic human right, an achievement attributed mostly to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law. However, in some European countries (such as Greece, Hungary and Poland) freedom of expression may be violated in other, less “direct” ways, such as threats, extortion, psychological violence and censorship imposed by political figures and governments.
2. What is the greatest impediment to freedom of expression in your location?
In Greece freedom of press is a big issue, especially in the last three years. Suppression of freedom is achieved through:
- attacks and harassment against journalists, photographers and TV crews by the police and the extreme right during their demonstrations, and
- state propaganda – the government funds and controls almost all media
3. Describe your work; in particular tell us about any efforts on behalf of minority or marginalised people.
The firm where I work today has a longstanding tradition in the protection of human rights. For instance we provide pro bono legal assistance to LGBTQIA groups and NGOs that promote the rights of HIV positive people. In addition we have defended freedom of speech of journalists and human rights activists. On a more personal level, I handle cases of refugees and migrants in Greece who face eviction, prosecution or deportation.
4. Do you consider yourself a human rights defender (HRD)? If so and you are at liberty to describe the experience, have you been the victim of harassment or threat because of your work?
Yes – I do consider myself as a human rights defender. I have been harassed by members of far-right groups for supporting refugees and migrants in Greece. The harassment took the form of verbal assaults and threats.
5. Have you been involved in any note-worthy cases concerning cartoonists, artists or journalists? Give an example.
I was involved in the representation of a Greek journalist who wrote a piece in a very popular newspaper, criticising a Greek Minister’s political history and past decisions on the occasion of his book’s publication. The politician filed a lawsuit against the journalist, claiming €250,000 compensation for moral damage. The case is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
6. Have you a favourite cartoonist? If so who, and what do you admire about them?
There are many cartoonists I admire, one of them being Khalid Albaih. Albaih’s cartoons criticise authoritarianism and inequalities, focusing particularly in the Arab world. His style is clear, simple and minimal, but at the same time extremely powerful. I love the fact that he does not use many words – his pieces are strong enough to stand on their own.
DISCLAIMER: The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The author(s) are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts contained in this article and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.