Defamation remains a criminal offence in Greece (punishable with imprisonment).
The Greek Criminal Code sets out a number of defamation-related : insult (Art. 361), unprovoked insult (Art. 361a), defamation (Art. 362), slander (Art. 363) and defamation of a corporation (Art. 364).
Insult is defined as insulting the reputation of another person through word or deed or otherwise, except if the act may be punishable as defamation.The punishment imposed may be either a fine or imprisonment for up to one year, or both. According to Art. 361, par.2, after taking into consideration the circumstances and the personality of the person offended, if the offence is not particularly severe, the perpetrator shall be punished only with [administrative] detention or a fine.
Unprovoked insult by action is defined in the same terms as insult, however in this case the offence must be committed through action and not have been provoked. This offence is punishable by imprisonment of up to three months or a fine. If two or more persons committed the act jointly, the punishment imposed shall be at least six months in prison.
Defamation is as claiming or disseminating before a third party facts about another person that may harm that person’s honour or reputation. It is punishable with up to two years in prison or a fine, or both.
Slander is defined as defamation in which the information was false and the perpetrator knew it to be false. This offence is punishable with imprisonment of at least three months or a fine. In addition, the offender may lose the political rights described in §63 of the Criminal Code.
Defamation or a corporation is defined as claiming or disseminating facts about a corporation (S.A.) relevant to its business, financial situation, general activities, or the persons who run and manage it in a way that might damage the public’s confidence in the company and generally to corporations. This offence is punishable with up to one year in prison or a fine. However, if the perpetrator knew that the facts claimed were false, the punishment shall be imprisonment only.
Additionally, Art. 369 provides that the provision of the Criminal Code (Art. 229) that punishes false accusation – the filing of a suit or the lodging of a false accusation of a criminal action with the authorities with the intent to cause prosecution of a person, punishable with up to one year in prison – can also be applied in connection with Arts. 361-365. This offence is punishable with a minimum of one year in prison.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
However, public officials have a procedural advantage in criminal defamation cases (see below under “Criminal Procedure”).
See also “Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols”.
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Provisions on the books.
Insulting or defaming the President of Greece is a criminal offence under Art. 168, par. 2 of the Greek Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to three months.
In addition, Art. 14, par. 3(b) of the Greek Constitution allows the seizure of publications (before or after the fact) that contain insults toward the President of Greece.
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Expressing hatred or contempt for, removing, destroying, deforming or desecrating the official flag of the State or emblem of its sovereignty is a criminal offence under Art. 181 of the Greek Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to two years.
In addition, publicly insulting the Greek Parliament is punishable with imprisonment of at least three months (Art. 157, par. 3). Pubilcly insulting departmental, municipal or other councils of local authority is punishable with up to two years in prison. Prosecution takes place with permission of the Parliament or council. If applicable, offender may also be punished with dismissal from public office (Art. 157, par. 4).
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Insulting the honour of the head of state of a foreign country that is at peace with Greece is a criminal offence under Art. 153 of the Greek Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for an unspecified term. The act is only prosecuted at the request of the foreign government.
Art. 154 states that if the act referred to in Art. 153 is committed against an ambassador or any other diplomatic agent of a foreign country, the perpetrator shall be punished with a prison sentence of up to two years, in case a more severe punishment is not prescribed by some other provision of the law. The prosecution can only be initiated upon complaint from the victim or the foreign government.
In addition, offending the flag or emblem of sovereignty or interfering with a national anthem of a foreign state that is at peace with Greece and is recognised by it is a criminal offence under Art. 155. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for up to six months. The prosecution may be initiated only at the request of the foreign government.
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Provisions on the books.
Insulting the memory of the dead with cruel or malicious defamation or libel is a criminal offence under Art. 365 of the Greek Criminal Code. It is punished with imprisonment for up to six months.
Provisions on the books.
Malicious blasphemy is a criminal offence under Art. 198 of the Greek Criminal Code. Whoever shows disrespect to the divine by means of blasphemy faces imprisonment for up to three months and a fine of maximum €3,000.
In addition, the act of publicly reviling the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ or any other religion tolerated in Greece (“religious vilification”) is a criminal offence under Art. 199 and punishable with up to two years in prison.
The Greek Constitution also allows for allows for the seizure of publications, either before or after circulation, that contain insults against the Christian or any known religion.
Other Relevant Criminal Provisions
Art. 14, par. 3(d) of the Greek Constitution allows for the seizure of obscene publications (those manifestly offensive to public decency) following circulation by an order of the public prosecutor.
The Greek Criminal Code also contains provisions relevant to dignity of sexual and gender rights, with increased protection for family members, as well as for minors. Art. 337 states: “Anyone who brutally attacks the dignity of another in the field of their sexual life, either with lewd gestures or suggestions concerning indecent acts, is punishable by imprisonment of a maximum of one year or a fine.” Art. 337, pars. 2-5 provide for heavier punishments when this offence is committed against children under 12, minors, or job seekers and if committed through the Internet or in the workplace.
Additionally, Art. 9 of Law 3500/2006 on Inter-Domestic Offences of Sexual Dignity provides that a person who insults the dignity of a family member with particularly degrading speech or deed referring to their sexual life can be punished with up to two years in prison.
According to Art. 368, par. 1 of the Greek Criminal Code, prosecution for the offences described in Arts. 361-365 can only be initiated upon complaint, but may be conducted ex officio when the offended party is a public official. In , if the victim is a police officer, port officer, fire brigade officer or health worker and the act occurred during while the victim was performing his or her duty and the offender acted masked or by altering his or her characteristics, criminal prosecution can also occur ex officio. Furthermore, according to Art. 368, par. 3, if the victim is a civil servant and the act occurred during the execution of his or her official duty or in relation to his or her duties, a complaint can also be submitted with the superior authority of the minister.
In the case of libel of the deceased, the surviving spouse and children also have the right to submit a complaint, and if they are also deceased, this right can be exercised by the surviving parents and siblings. In the case of defamation of a corporation, the right to file charges falls to the managing board or any other person who has a substantial legal interest (Art. 368, par. 2).
Under Art. 369, par. 1, the plaintiff may request from the court publication of the court’s judgment at the defendant’s expense for crimes committed under Arts. 361-365. Furthermore, if the offence was committed by the press, the publication must contain at least the rationale of the court’s decision as well as the judgment. According to Art. 369, par. 2, the newspaper or magazine publisher must publish the court’s entire decision with eight days from the verdict in the same position as the original offending article. Non-compliance is punishable with up to one year in prison or a fine.
Statistics on Application
The following data were provided upon request to the International Press Institute by EL.STAT., the Hellenic Statistical Authority. The data noted here refer to the year 2010, the most recent year for which information on criminal convictions has been processed and available for sharing.
- For Art. 361 (insult), there were 580 convictions, resulting in 561 , 17 criminal fines, and 2 . In terms of the prison sentences, 10 were for 1-5 years, 16 for 6-12 months, 109 for 3-6 months, 189 for up to 3 months, and 237 for up to 1 month.
- For Art. 362 (defamation), there were 19 convictions, resulting in 19 prison sentences, of which 2 were for 6-12 months, 15 for 3-6 months, and 2 for up to 2 months.
- For Art. 363 (slander), there were 138 convictions, resulting in 137 prison sentences and 1 criminal fine. In terms of the prison sentences, 24 were for 1-5 years, 54 for 6-12 months, 44 for 3-6 months, 11 for up to 3 months, and 4 for up to 1 month.
Complete data for the years 2000 – 2010 can be downloaded here (Excel, English).
The following information was originally published in the IPI-commissioned report “Greece: Press Freedom and Defamation Laws in a Time of Crisis“, authored by Dr. Eleni Polymenopoulou.
Journalistic freedom in Greece is subject to laws protecting privacy, honour and reputation. As in the case of freedom of expression, personality rights enjoy a high threshold of protection under the Greek Constitution. Art. 5, par. 2 guarantees, among other things, the full protection to the honour of all persons residing in Greek territory “irrespective of nationality, race or language and of religious or political beliefs …”.
In terms of civil law, the press is liable for offences to reputation on the basis of general tort provisions as well as on the basis of laws providing special liability for the press, the most important of which being Law 1178/1981 on Civil Liability of the Press. The latter consists of one article with nine paragraphs. It states that the publishers or owners of newspapers and magazines are liable to pay moral damages to anyone offended by an article containing inaccurate information. Law 2328/1995 on the Legal Status of Private Television states that radio and television stations must respect the rights to honour and reputation.
More detailed information on the law and its interpretation by Greek courts can be found in the above-mentioned report. In December 2015, the Greek Parliament passed a comprehensive reform of Greek civil defamation law regarding the press. The most important of these reforms, which are not included in the report, are:
· The repeal of minimum compensation limits for non-pecuniary (moral) damage in defamation cases. Previously, print media found liable for defamation faced paying a minimum of nearly €6,000 in damages. The reform also scrapped minimum compensation amounts applying to radio and television broadcasters under Law 2328/1995 on the Legal Status of Private Television. Those amounts had been set at 100,000,000 drachma (€300,000) and 50,000,000 drachma (€150,000), respectively.
· The introduction of a provision requiring courts to assess damages in a proportionate manner, taking into account, among other things, the publication’s impact, the nature and severity of the harm, the circumstances in which the harm occurred and the social and economic situation of the parties.
· A addition of a provision requiring all plaintiffs to allow the impugned media outlet 20 days to restore any harm done prior to filing any legal claim. If the media outlet retracts the offending content or otherwise remedies the harm done, plaintiffs are barred from pursuing damages in court except in the case of material harm, which is generally difficult to prove.
· The institution of a six-month deadline for filing claims for compensation in the case that a media outlet refuses or fails to publish a restoration.
· The enactment of a single-publication rule.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation under Greek law.
Both Law 1178/1981 and Law 2328/1995 previously included minimum limits on compensation for defamation committed via print, radio and television media. Those limits were repealed in December 2015.
Regarding general tort law, in the case of injury to reputation, non-pecuniary damages may be awarded under Arts. 57 (personality right), 59 (compensation for moral harm), 914 and 932 (tort liability and the compensation of moral harm) of the Greek Civil Code.
Art. 57 provides that an individual who suffered unlawful harm to his personality has the right to claim the cessation of such harm and also the non-recurrence thereof in the future. A claim for compensation under tort provisions is not excluded.
If the offended party is deceased, the right to sue for damages may be exercised by his or her relatives. In order to receive compensation for moral harm, the unlawfulness of the act or omission, liability on the part of the infringer, and an adequate connection between the act and the damage must be proven.
Media Cases and Case Law
Notable cases involving the media
In 2006, Aggeliki Mika, who was then a municipal councillor in Nigrita, wrote a newspaper article containing allegations that the mayor of Nigrita had shown favouritism while hiring officials. In 2008, a court of first instance convicted Mika of criminal libel and ordered a suspended eight-month prison sentence in addition to €50 in damages. In 2009, the Court of Appeal of Thessaloniki upheld the judgment but reduced the prison sentence to seven months. Mika later appealed to the Court of Cassation, which dismissed her appeal. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that Mika’s right to free expression had been violated due to the severity of the punishment.
In 2004, the Greek Court of Cassation upheld a €160,000 civil libel judgment against radio host Nikitas Lionarakis and several other individuals over a 1999 programme in which Lionarakis had interviewed a Greek journalist about, among other things, Greece’s connection to Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, who was wanted by Turkish authorities on terrorism charges. The journalist stated that Greek citizens had helped Öcalan escape from Turkey to Greece and onward to Kenya. The journalist also criticised what he viewed as overly patriotic actions by Greek individuals and referred to a Greek lawyer allegedly involved in helping Öcalan as a “pseudo-patriotic neurotic”. The lawyer sued Lionarakis, the journalist interviewed, the television station, and two station representatives for defamation, claiming 150 million drachmas (approx. €440,000) in damages. Lionarakis brought the case to the ECtHR, which found that his Art. 10 rights had been violated.
In March 2015, a court sentenced investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis to 26 months in prison, suspended for three years, over an article that analysed a prominent businessman’s alleged involvement in the 2012 to 2013 Cypriot financial crisis.
Recent Legal Changes
In December 2015, the Greek Parliament approved a bill on a Cohabitation Pact and Other Provisions («Σύμφωνο Συμβίωσης και άλλες διατάξεις»). This bill, which primarily served to allow same-sex civil partnerships, also included a wide-ranging reform to civil libel law, including the repeal of minimum compensation levels and the introduction of a pre-trial period during which plaintiffs must allow media outlets the opportunity to restore the alleged harm done. For detailed information, see under “Civil Defamation”.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Greece was last updated in January 2016.