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Greece4 August 2004

Concern at possible obstruction of news coverage on eve of Olympics

Reporters Without Borders today said it was "outraged" that two journalists with the Mexican TV station Televisa and their interpreter were arrested, handcuffed, insulted and hit by members of the Greek coastguard on 2 August as they were doing a report on Piraeus, the main port of Athens, where eight ships, including the Queen Mary II, are to serve as hotels during the Olympic Games.

"We welcome the fact that an investigation is under way and we call for it to be fast and thorough," the organisation said, noting that the Greek authorities had made contradictory statements about the incident, and that the exact circumstances needed to be clarified as quickly as possible.

Reporters Without Borders added: "Security measures are legitimate and necessary but they in no way justify aggressive behaviour that is utterly reprehensible. We hope that security procedures will not unnecessarily obstruct journalists in their work as this would tarnish the image of the Olympic Games."

The merchant marine ministry claimed in press release yesterday that reporter Eduardo Salazar, cameraman Russel Vaquiero and interpreter Fernando Kalligas "tried to flee by car," forcing police to detain them. The port police has roundly denied the allegations of violence, humiliation and insults.

The two journalists and their interpreter have denied trying to escape. Kalligas said they were at a spot overlooking the port where there was no sign saying filming was prohibited. They were about to leave when a military jeep arrived. Three uniformed men got out and confiscated their IDs and accreditation, along with their telephones and equipment. The officials then searched them in such a violent way that one of them fell to the ground. At the same time, they were insulted and threatened.

According to Kalligas, they were then handcuffed and take to the headquarters of the port police. Vaquiero was ordered to put his hands on a table. When he did not comply quickly enough, a policeman banged his head against the table.

Kalligas said that when an official from the 2004 Athens Games organising committee came to verify their accreditation, their handcuffs were removed. But they were put back afterwards. They were then led to a kind of gymnasium while being administered kicks to make them walk quickly. There, with their heads bent and legs wide apart, they were again insulted and threatened. When a policeman began to lower the trousers of one of the journalists, an officer came in and said: "None of that here." The behaviour of the policemen changed completely when senior military officers arrived.

The journalists were only able to telephone their TV station when the Mexican ambassador arrived. They filed a complaint today. The Greek news media yesterday just reported the Mexican TV crew’s arrest without mentioning their claims that they had been subjected to violence. When the international news agencies reported the allegations that they had been hit, threatened and insulted, the local media just used the statement issued by the merchant marine ministry.

The day following the incident, four Mexican journalists were detained near a military base in Tatoi, north of Athens. Previously, a photographer with Agence France Presse (AFP) who was taking photos in the tourist quarter was detained for several hours on 28 July. Another AFP journalist was forbidden from photographing the site of the marathon although he was in the street, not inside any Olympic installation.

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