The Athens Journalists’ Union (ESIEA) on Thursday condemned what it called an attempt by the former high-ranking government chief of staff to stifle reporting into his alleged role in a wire-tapping case by filing numerous “SLAPP suits”.

The acronym is short for “strategic lawsuit against public participation”, or SLAPP, which refers to legal action brought by individuals or entities with the intent to dissuade press critics from what they deem is negative publicity against them.

The individual at the center of ESIEA’s criticism is Grigoris Dimitriadis, who resigned in August 2022 as general secretary of the premier’s office in the face of stepped-up media scrutiny and opposition criticism that Greek intelligence services allegedly tapped the mobile phones of a handful of journalists, office-holders, political rivals and even top military brass with state-of-the-art spyware applications.

In a statement posted on its website, ESIEA’s board members state that “…after repeated instances of SLAPP, (the board) once again expresses its absolute opposition to the practice of such lawsuits, which aim to intimidate journalists and limit reporting…recently, Grigoris Dimitriadis, who was forced to resign as government secretary general when the press investigations into the wiretapping case began, has unleashed a flurry of new lawsuits against numerous journalists and mass media, demanding, in fact, exorbitant and devastating damages.”

Over the last two years the center-right Mitsotakis government faced its biggest criticism from revelations that the intelligence service (EYP), which is under the jurisdiction of prime minister’s office, eavesdropped on various individuals. A twin accusation is that many of the same people were targeted with a potent spyware called “Predator”, including then MEP Nikos Androulakis, before he was elected president of the socialist PASOK party in December 2021.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis flatly denied that he knew of the wire-taps or alleged use of the spyware, going on to handily win back-to-back general elections in May and June 2023. Dimitriadis is his nephew.

The case had also taken on European and international dimensions, with some of the government’s rivals referring to a “Greek Watergate”.

Members of EU’s Pega committee arrived in Greece in early November 2022 to investigate the allegations, with a final report in May 2023 approved and adopted by European Parliament. The report concluded that there were violations of EU law, and issued 10 recommendations to Athens, including implementing of a “Whistleblowers Directive”.

The mushrooming of such SLAPP suits has recently landed on the floor of the European Parliament, which is now considering legislation that will act as “shield laws” against abusive litigation.

The ESIEA announcement touches on last month’s provisional political agreement between the European Parliament and the EU Council regarding new EU rules to protect those targeted by SLAPP suits, such as journalists, rights defenders or civil society organizations, noting that this “…vindicates ESIEA, the International Federation and journalists from across Europe against the obstruction of news coverage on matters of public interest”.