Setting a dangerous precedent

on . Posted in English texts


The people whose names were published because of their alleged involvement in the case of the possession and distribution of child pornography are neither pederasts nor pedophiles. They have not been proved to have been in possession of child pornography or distributing it; they have only been accused of possessing and distributing it.

There is a huge difference between someone who has been proven to be in possession of child pornography and someone charged with it. The difference is even greater than any final decision in the courtroom. Add to this the fact that courts can often be misled; even someone accused of a crime is not necessarily a criminal.

Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis created a dangerous precedent on Friday when he asked the prosecutor to publish the names of the people accused in the child pornography case, on the argument "society and public opinion in general need to be shielded from heinous crimes and monstrous criminals."

First of all, public opinion does not need protecting, nor is there any way to protect it. This must have been some mistake in the phraseology of the kind we hear so often in Parliament. Many questions arise from the justice minister's request: Does society need "protection from monstrous criminals" of the kind that comes from publishing the names of the accused parties? Secondly, who will undertake the role of protector? Will it be the Espresso newspaper, which was the first to publish the names?

We have argued extensively about the various crazy things born of the fever for protection of privacy. We have argued that once you do something in the public domain, you also have publicity. A criminal case is not a private matter that should be protected by privacy laws. It is a public case and the public has a right to know. That is why, from the moment the public prosecutor charges someone with a crime, their name should be made public. This is not so that the public can point its finger at the accused, but a way of monitoring the judicial process. If we don't know who is accusing whom and why, then many innocent people can be crushed under the wheels of justice. Publicity protects the accused and the justice system as well.

This is a very different reasoning from that which drove the justice minister's decision, which, in effect, called for a witch hunt to be conducted through the media. If the purpose of publishing the names is to protect society from "monstrous criminals" (and there goes the presumption of innocence) then why shouldn't we also make public all the names of people we suspect of having tendencies toward pedophilia? We may be wrong in our judgments, but aren't judges fallible as well? When the objective is the "protection of society" in such vague terms, we can kiss individual rights good-bye.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 29/05/2008