Freelance journalist Romain Chauvet was convicted of “disseminating false information” and received a six-month suspended jail sentence in Greece, after authorities claimed he made a bomb threat at an airport.
Chauvet, a Canadian and French citizen based in Athens, works as a freelancer with Radio-Canada, La Presse, as well as France-based media BFMTV and Courrier des Balkans, and is also studying for a master’s degree in Athens. He previously worked as a producer with Radio-Canada in Toronto.
On Oct. 12, 2023, he went to the Athens airport to report on the arrival of a Canadian flight evacuating citizens from Israel, Chauvet told La Presse.
The non-commercial flight wasn’t listed on the airport arrivals board, so Chauvet said he asked an employee at an information desk if she knew when the flight was expected to arrive, but she didn’t know. Chauvet then went to the airport exit and waited to see if he could identify any arriving Canadians who he might interview, reported Radio-Canada.
After about half an hour, he was approached by police officers, who asked to check his identification. Chauvet said he “didn’t really understand what was happening,” and showed the police a filming authorization document which the airport authority had issued to him.
The police replied that the woman at the information desk claimed that he had said there was a bomb on the arriving evacuation flight, which Chauvet denies.
Chauvet was then detained and interrogated for several hours. He said that during the interrogation police didn’t ask about the alleged bomb threat, but instead wanted to know how he had known about the arriving flight.
The flight had been reported in Canadian media, and Minister of National Defence Bill Blair mentioned it in a post on Twitter on Oct. 12. The flight’s route was also publicly available through flight tracking applications, Chauvet noted.
Chauvet was held in a cell overnight and appeared in court on Oct. 13.
In court, the employee working at the information desk repeated her claim that Chauvet had said there was a bomb on the plane, reported Libération.
Chauvet noted that his conversation with the employee had been in English, which he speaks fluently, and the employee also appeared to understand well. Quoting a lawyer who appeared in court to advise the employee, Libération reported that the employee was born in the U.S. and lived there for some time.
Police presented no other evidence to support the charge, RSF reported.
On Oct. 26, Chauvet was convicted and given a six-month suspended jail sentence. Under Greek law, Chauvet will not be jailed if he is not accused of another crime for three years. He is appealing the decision.
The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec described the situation as “worrying and deplorable.” Reporters sans frontières said the organization was “shocked by the conviction of a journalist in a word-against-word procedure without solid evidence.”
Chauvet had previously written about the decline of press freedom in Greece for the International Journalists’ Network.