By Jane Whyatt
Threatened with death and detained by police when he tried to report attacks on a journalist, Erik Marquardt has felt at first hand the abuses of human rights on the Greek island of Lesvos.
The former photojournalist, who now represents Berlin as a Green Member of the European Parliament, has been living on the island since the beginning of February 2020. He witnessed violent scenes, where right-wing gangs attacked refugees and journalists and riot police fired tear gas.
“I myself was threatened by some people. They said they will kill me and put me where my mother will never find me”
Yet when Marquardt reported the threat to the police, they did not arrest the men but took the MEP to the police station with a reporting team from Deutsche Welle. The police commander shouted at them and ordered them not to go to the beaches again nor to observe the work of the coastguards.
Marquardt comments that “it seemed the police were kind of supporting these racist attacks, doing nothing against them and acting against the journalist who was there with me.”
After the attack on journalist Micheal Trammer Marquardt helped him to get hospital treatment for a head wound. He also witnessed threats and violence against aid workers. Right-wing extremists from across Europe travelled to Lesvos when the Turkish border was briefly opened and hundreds of refugees started to arrive in small boats, only to be beaten up by the gangs. Mapping Media Freedom has verified and published a number of other attacks on media workers during this period when reporting teams came under pressure from right-wing thugs who tried to prevent them from reporting the facts on the ground.
Corona virus brought new threats
With the outbreak of the corona virus the situation worsened, says Marquardt, since on 1. March Greece stopped allowing new asylum claims. He warns that during this health crisis, the European Union must show solidarity or risk breaking up.
“We have a situation where governments do not respect human rights, rule of law or press freedom any more. The power of our European democracies is that we solve our problems in the framework of laws which are given to us by a majority of the parliaments. This is not some hypermobilised idea by some hippies, to have human rights or rule of law. It’s the only sustainable answer.“
The Green MEP, who is a deputy member of the Parliament’s LIBE Committee on law and civil rights, said the Commission should use the Article 7 sanctions procedure to uphold rule of law and human rights, and noted that the corona crisis is also an economic crisis, so that EU bailout funds and grants to Member States could be made conditional on upholding European values. Erik Marquardt is staying on Lesvos during the lockdown to prevent the spread of corona virus. He is in touch with President Ursula van der Leyen and urging the European Commission to rescue refugees from overcrowded conditions, perhaps by using cruise ships and hotels that are lying empty because of the travel bans.
‘Absolutely unacceptable’ emergency powers
Meanwhile the Chair of the European Parliament’S LIBE Committee on law and civil rights, Jose Fernando Aguilar, has condemned the move by Hungary to criminalise people who spread “disinformation” with the threat of up to five years in prison. Aguilar said it was “absolute power to rule by decree by Orbàn, with no time frame, which is absolutely unacceptable.“ Hungary’s government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs retorted in a tweet that “Hungary upholds EU values, rule of law (and) press freedom”.
Read the full background to Hungary’s emergency powers in this article by Agnes Urban.