Atheist Alliance International’s unreserved public apology to Panayote Dimitras



Atheist Alliance International Leader Resigns After Insult-Filled Tenure


Michael Sherlock, the latest executive director for Atheist Alliance International, has resigned from his position, and he’s going out in a blaze of disgrace.

A quick recap: AAI is one of the larger atheist organizations in the world, with nearly 200,000 fans on Facebook and “Special Consultative status” with the United Nations (something they won’t stop talking about even though the status isn’t all that special).

After hiring an alleged sexual predator in 2019, only to have him resign months later, Sherlock was eventually brought on board to right the ship… and it didn’t go well.

He publicly called one critic a “cunt” and used the slur “retarded” in multiple tweets. (While there’s a definition of the word that means “slowed” or “delayed,” it was clear in context he meant the slur.) One major atheist group decided not to affiliate with AAI after seeing Sherlock’s behavior. AAI temporarily suspended him over the summer, perhaps hoping he’d be on his best behavior after that, but when you hire an edgelord, you can’t be shocked when nothing changes.

That’s why it was surprising to see this resignation announcement from AAI this afternoon:

It is with great regret that I announce the resignation of Michael Sherlock from the position of Executive Director of Atheist Alliance International effective from today.

Michael holds down two demanding jobs and lives in a time zone that means getting up at 04:00 several days a week. He has realised it is impossible to do this long-term. To achieve anything like a reasonable work-life balance something had to give.

He said, “It is with great sadness that I resign from AAI. I firmly believe AAI is the only atheist organisation that can make a real difference to the lives of atheists around the world. The people at AAI are genuine and dedicated. I will miss them.”

Michael served as Executive Director for almost a year. He had astonishing energy and passion for his work and brought us many new connections and innovative ideas. He championed the formation of our Advisory Council and worked to grow the influence of our affiliates and Regional Directors. We are sorry to see him go.

That certainly makes it sound like Sherlock stepped down on his own, and AAI would’ve preferred he stayed there. On its own, there’s nothing unusual about a resignation like that. It’s like a politician claiming he wants to spend more time with his family. Maybe he does, but there’s probably more to it.

So what more is there?

Well. Consider that this is what Sherlock posted several hours before that statement by AAI went up online:

I’m honored. Truly. (His use of the R-word is identical to what got him in trouble over the summer. He knows why people were upset by it. He just doesn’t care.)

The rest of his comment didn’t come out of nowhere, either. Earlier this month, Sherlock said on Facebook that “Islam poses a greater threat to humanity and human rights than any other religion on the planet. #Fact.”

One commenter responded to that statement by saying Islam wasn’t the problem so much as Muslim extremists, and there are “millions of other Muslims” out there — peaceful, positive, kind — who show that the religion can’t be described using a one-size-fits-all label. That same commenter admitted, “Islamic fundamentalism is indeed a greater threat than other religious fundamentalisms.” Still, his point was that a religion with over a billion adherents should not be defined by its worst members.

It was a perfectly reasonable statement to make. In the U.S., for example, Christian extremism is a far greater threat to our society than radical Islam. Muslims in America are often victims of religious bigotry, not the causes of it. But even after the Capitol siege, it would be foolish to suggest all of Christianity is the problem.

Anyway, what was Sherlock’s response to that reasonable comment?

In typical edgelord fashion, he went with name-calling.

Sherlock is unable to handle any kind of fair criticism. He lashes out in the worst ways, always unintentionally showing the world that his critics were right.

But wait! It gets better. It turns out the person he’s denouncing happens to represent an AAI affiliate…

A source within AAI told me the interaction was reported to the organization, which undertook yet another disciplinary hearing against Sherlock. But before any decision could be made about his status, Sherlock chose to resign. (Huge “You can’t fire me! I quit!” vibes…)

I also reached out to Panayote Dimitras, the commenter who was the recipient of that Sherlock insult, and he told me he was “disappointed with the parting statement by the [AAI] Board which gives a false explanation.”

Given all that, I’m not sure why AAI is “sorry to see him go” when Sherlock was clearly dragging the group down. At this point, I don’t even know why anyone would want his job. Either AAI stands behind their failed directors or they have to admit they’re really bad at hiring good people.

As I’ve said before, this isn’t some petty fight or attempt to stir up drama. I want groups like AAI to succeed. If their goal is to make atheism more acceptable and help people in other countries when their rejection of religion puts them in harm’s way, I’m right there with them. But when their leaders are openly hostile to constructive critics or making statements that are impossible to defend, it just creates more obstacles for our shared goals.

At this point, the people leading AAI are creating far more problems than they’re solving.

***Update***: AAI Has issued an apology to Panayote Dimitras:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

AAI would like to issue an unreserved public apology to Panayote Dimitras for several insulting messages and Facebook posts made by Michael Sherlock, our outgoing Executive Director.

Panayote is a Co-Founder of the Humanist Union of Greece and was kindly assisting us with an important United Nations project when Michael escalated a polite difference of opinion into a string of rude and abusive messages. None of this was any of Panayote’s fault. Although we know Michael was suffering a period of acute stress, we cannot excuse his behaviour, and we are very sorry this happened.

(Screenshot via YouTube. Portions of this article were published earlier)

Atheist Alliance International supports secularisation in Greek schools


AAI supports secularisation in Greek schools

By AAI on January 15, 2021Comments Closed / 35 views

Following a campaign by our Affiliate, the Atheist Union of Greece, a crucial hearing related to the human right of freedom of conscience was held before the plenary of the  Council of State (Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court) today, Jan 15th. Vasilis Sotiropoulos, our affiliates’ and the families’ attorney, stated:

“…  This case is, once again, about the exemption of students from the religious education course in the Greek high schools. Despite the condemnation of Greece from the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Papageorgiou et al. (2019), the State has not yet fully complied with its obligations. In addition’ it has not yet organized the “alternative equal course” that the exempted will be able to attend so that they will not be deprived of teaching hours.

In August 2020, the Deputy Minister of Education signed a circular in which parents must ask for exemption because of “religious conscience reasons”, while the Data Protection Authority has already, twice, ruled that an invocation of “conscience reasons” in general is sufficient. Specifically, “religious reasons” again reveals sensitive data (a special category of data) which schools are not allowed to keep, as noted by the ECtHR.

Further, the Ministry did not publish the decision in the Official Government Gazette according to the law, it did not even post it on the government’s transparency website, therefore, according to the established case law of the Council of State it is a NON-EXISTENT ACT! In other words, the distorted compliance of the country, among others, is also non-existent. According to any reasonable provision it is expected to be canceled by the Plenary Session of the Council of State, because some officials did not fulfill the duty of publishing the circular.

Things are getting tighter for the Ministry of Education. A lot. Had I been in their place, I would issue the correct circular today and I would publish it in the Official Government Gazette in order to invalidate the trial in the Plenary Session, as irrelevant.
Unfortunately I do not expect reflexes as such on a human rights case. …”

This trial comes after two earlier, successful trials and campaigns for which AAI provided crucial support. Both were applications for annulment of ministerial decisions related to:

1. The content of religious classes taught in Greek Schools and the process for children to be exempted. This trial resulted in both the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemning the Greek State for the exemption process that it used to apply. The content of the class is still pending on the ECtHR.

2. Printing students’ religions on high school certificates. This also resulted in condemnation of the Greek State and termination of this practice. Since 2020 high school certificates no longer disclose students’ religious views.

The conclusion once again is that the Greek state and the current right-wing government is unwilling to proceed to the necessary secularisation reforms in Greek public schools despite orders from the Greek and European law.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: Urgent appeal about the deregistration of KISA by the government of Cyprus


CYP 002 / 1220 / OBS 142
Administrative harassment / Obstacles to freedom of association


December 23, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cyprus.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) about the deregistration of KISA, an NGO that works for the rights of migrants and denounces cases of racism and hate speech.

On December 14, 2020, the Ministry of Interior of Cyprus announced the removal of KISA from the Register of Associations and Foundations for allegedly having failed to submit audited accounts and to conduct statutory and electoral assemblies since August 2020. Under the Amendment 118 (I)/2020 of the 2017 Law on Associations and Foundations and Other Related Issues, the deregistration of an NGO is irreversible and entails the prohibition of continuing its action.

On August 27, 2020 the Ministry of Interior had published a list of 2827 NGOs, including KISA, informing about their placement in a “dissolution process” for their alleged failure to submit the documents required by the Amendment of the 2017 Law on Associations and Foundations. Furthermore, the Ministry of Interior granted an additional delay until October 26, 2020 to the concerned NGOs to submit the documentation. 

On November 27, 2020, the Registrar of Associations rejected KISA’s submission on the grounds of not formally complying with the deadlines for submitting the relevant information to the Registrar of Associations and informed the organisation it would be included in the second list of associations for dissolution, even though KISA had met the deadline. 

The Observatory underlines that the deregistration of KISA is not an isolated incident but is part of a series of attacks and acts of harassment against KISA for its work defending human rights, including the arbitrary detention of the Executive Director of the organisation, Doros Polykarpou, on August 2, 2019, and the sentencing of the organisation on “defamation” and “harmful forgery” charges on June 22, 2020.

The Observatory expresses its deep concern over the deregistration of KISA, as it establishes an unjustified restriction to freedom of assembly and sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the right to defend human rights in Cyprus. In that regard, the Observatory recalls that Cyprus has an international obligation to protect human rights defenders and particularly, their right to hold opinions without interference and to denounce human rights abuses, under Art. 6 and 12 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cyprus to urge them to:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of the members of KISA;
  1. Put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the administrative and judicial level, against KISA and all human rights defenders and organisations in Cyprus, and ensure that they are not criminalised as retaliation to their legitimate human rights activities;
  1. Ensure that any legislation adopted on the regulation of NGOs fully conforms to Cyprus’ national and international human rights obligations and ensure that the adoption of such a legislation is preceded by effective and meaningful consultation with CSOs and consideration of their concerns and recommendations;
  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association enshrined in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).


Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cyprus in your respective countries.


Geneva-Paris, December 23, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society. 

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

·     E-mail: 

·     Tel OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 

·     Tel FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 

“Justice and Environment” Network’s End of Year Newsletter including “Whistleblowing case in Greece” reported by GHM

End of Year Newsletter & Holiday Greeting

Written by Željka Leljak Gracin – new Chairwoman of Justice and Environment
Although it was a great honor to become Chairwoman of Justice and Environment in June this year, it was not an easy task to step into the shoes of my predecessor, Siim Vahtrus, since he did a great job. The whole network and I personally wish all the best to Siim and are sure he will be equally successful in his new role as he was in J&E. I will do my best to continue to strengthen our network externally and internally in the years which are ahead of us with the support of a great team consisting of Senka Vrbica as Vice-Chairwoman, Csaba Kiss as Coordinator, Lubica Motzkova as Finance manager and Marija Mileta as Communications person. Every network needs a strong internal team to operate smoothly in order to further develop the network and for the benefit of its member organisations, and I am very confident and grateful that we have that.
Getting to know the network and its members was personally a great (and fun) experience and still is. Zelena akcija/FoE Croatia, the organisation in which I work as a lawyer, got in touch with the network in 2006 and I am very proud of what we have achieved since then. The network grew within these years not only in the number of members but also professionally in becoming a network with strong partnerships with other European networks and civil society organisations, and being recognised by the European Commision as a pool of environmental law experts. Besides joint projects, sharing knowledge and experience between members and giving each other support is the greatest value of Justice and Environment. We all can say, without modesty, that we contribute to the development of environmental law with our everyday work on EU and national level, which is a thing we should all be very proud of. It is not an easy task to have a reflection on my work as Chairwoman so far as probably we would all prefer to forget this whole year. However, although the situation with COVID-19 did have an impact on the network as it did on the whole world, we managed to preserve the network in this extreme situation which is, in my opinion, a great success. Moreover, we adapted to the situation very quickly and did not face any period in which we were unable to fulfill our obligations within projects. Having that in mind, the future looks bright for Justice and Environment and I am looking forward to being part of it in the following years.


This year has been an exceptional one, and not in a positive manner. But life does not stop, and we had to go on with our undertakings in order to promote the implementation of access rights. And you can be sure, we did our best again.

We devoted a considerable attention to an old phenomenon that has become really important and interesting these years: SLAPP cases. These are those frivolous and vexatious cases with little legal merit that are initiated by public authorities or companies in order to silence the civil society and journalists. We joined an anti-SLAPP working group led by Greenpeace Europe and contributed to its work with our legal knowledge, as well as we did a survey among our member countries to know if there are any available legal means against SLAPP cases. The results will be published in 2021 January.

Many years ago, the European Commission published a Communication on access to justice with the aim of promoting the access of the members of the public to justice in environmental matters. The intended purpose of the document was to orientate Member States in a situation where the adoption of the directive on access to environmental justice was blocked by the EU Council. Did it work? We wanted to know, so we made another survey, the outcomes of which will be published in 2021 January, again.

What is available now, however, on our website, is a study on how one can get information about environmental damage and liability cases in a number of Member States. This comparative analysis is built on our national research and complements well our large-scale research we are coordinating for the Commission on the implementation of the Environmental Liability Directive in the EU Member States.

Our paper on how courts can protect clean air via legal actions is ready, just waiting for the final touches before its publication in January 2021.

And finally, we left the big thing for the last: The Commission, after many years of resistance and reluctance, finally published a draft amendment to the Aarhus Regulation that would grant access to justice to NGOs against the decisions and omissions of EU bodies. While the step is welcomed, the proposal misses a few key points that would be critical for granting real and effective access to justice on EU level. If you are interested, read the joint statement of EEB, J&E and Client Earth here.

So, it was not only a difficult, but also an interesting year for access matters, and in 2021, we will not just publish the outcomes of the work we have done this year but will also continue the fight for less barriers of access to justice, for a harassment-free environment for civil activists and environmental defenders, and for a broader access to remedies on the EU level. Stay with us, it is worth the wait!


National climate plans
Integrated national energy and climate plans (NECPs) are crucial elements of the 2030 climate and energy
framework, bringing energy and climate targets into one strategy, as well as helping to plan and report on progress. In 2020, J&E continued working on transparency and public participation of NECPs on national level, especially focusing on strategic environmental assessments (SEA). We are preparing a comparative study on how the finalising process of NECPs was carried out in seven member states. Besides focusing on SEA, we are planning to give an overview on the legal form of NECPs to empower civil society organisations to get involved in the implementation or enforcement. Our findings will be available on our website in the beginning of 2021!  In 2021, J&E will continue monitoring NECPs and analysing transparency and public participation regarding implementation of ongoing NECPs. Monitoring of Climate Acts is also planned in 2021, and we plan to give an overview on good practices, solutions and weaknesses.

SEA – Climate Assessment 
Environmental assessment of effects on climate is still a very abstract topic for all participants in the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). It is carried out in the context of uncertainty as well as politically and normatively set objectives. For “mainstreaming” climate change, which includes the integration of climate content into all policies, the SEA is an excellent tool for impact assessment of the highest strategic plans and programs (PPs) on climate, both climate change mitigation and adaptation.On the basis of the J&E comparative study on Strategic Environmental Assessments and Climate Change “Assessing the Impacts on Climatic Factors”, J&E created practical guidance on the issue. It is focussed on considerations throughout the SEA that are important for assessing the impact of plans and programmes at the highest strategic national level on climatic factors. After an introduction to the general issue of climate mainstreaming in plans and programmes, the guidance addresses the different stages of the SEA. The most critical phase is the screening phase, which is aiming at the assessment whether a plan requires a SEA.

The guidance is a complementary reading to the Guidance on Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Strategic Environmental Assessment and as such is useful for decision-makers, experts, NGOs and the general public in public consultations. At this highest strategic level, it is important that such strategic aspirations are designed in a way that will yield effective contributions to achieving climate goals. That way, the coherence of the plan or program will not be aligned only to the Paris Agreement or EU national climate goals, but also with other strategic goals related to climate change (e.g. Agenda 2030 goals and national strategies).On 23 November 2020, the J&E Climate topic team held a webinar on climatic factors in SEA. Recordings of the different presentations can be accessed by J&E members and shared with others on request. 

Climate litigation and advocacy
Under international law, i.e. the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement and the outcome of the latest IPCC report, individual states are obligated to act and proceed respecting protection of human rights and precautionary principle. Climate litigation has therefore become an increasingly important topic throughout the European Union.J&E supports national NGOs in bringing climate cases to court. A compilation of relevant case law will be published and within different events, members of civil society shall have the opportunity to exchange their experiences in this field. So far, cases have been started in Austria and Slovenia. In Austria, the Constitutional Court has recently rejected the first climate case against benefits for aviation for strictly formal reasons. Other cases are still pending.


Justice and Environment, supported by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWFCEE), prepared a position paper on the EU Directive which governs the assessment of environmental impacts of strategic documents (SEA Directive). Although, J&E, EEB and WWFCEE mostly agree with these conclusions, we wanted to highlight that in order to unleash the full potential of the SEA Directive, which has an enormous potential to aid in the necessary transformation of our society, it should provide a framework for including environmental and sustainability considerations throughout strategic decision-making procedures. The position paper was published on 29th October and sent to different  departments and officials of European Commision.

Related to national work of J&E members, a lot has happened in 2020. There is a strategic case which concerns the use of Art 4(7) of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) to protect Czech, Polish and German Waters against the negative impacts of the expansion of the Turow coal complex. Our Austrian member was lobbying against the Act for Location Development (Standortentwicklungsgesetz) which could potentially undermine EIA proceedings, challenging the hunting permissions against otters (lutra lutra) in Lower Austria due to a violation of the Habitats Directive (especially Article 6). J&E Croatian member, in coalition with three other Croatian NGOs, is fighting against the permit to Hrvatske vode (Croatian Waters) for the excavation of 460,000 m3 of sediment from Drava River without an environmental impact study. The Ministry which issued the permit has violated the Habitats, Birds and Water Framework Directive.  

It is also important to mention that Justice and Environment, as well as a lot of member organisations, supported the Manifesto against new hydropower in Europe which was initiated by WWF EU and published on 26th October. 

It can be concluded that, although there were a lot of challenges in 2020, J&E managed to overcome difficulties and was active on international and national level, and we will surely continue to work on this topic in 2021. Activities continued as planned in this topic, although the situation with COVID-19 made our lives and work difficult, since in our line of work we have to contact different stakeholders which is never an easy task. Besides comparative analysis on WFD and SEA, which are in their final stage of preparation, we also started working on a comparative study on the impact that the latest changes to the EIA Directive have had on the EIA practice in member states. These three studies will be published in 2021 and will be used as an advocacy tool for improvement of all environmental procedures.
Victory in Austrian wolf caseThe Salzburg Regional Administrative Court announced on 14th December 2020 the decision to annul the permission to shoot a wolf in Salzburg, after complaints by WWF, the Naturschutzbund and ÖKOBÜRO/J&E Austria. The decision was appealed by the NGOs because the requirements for killing the animal were not met: there was neither significant/serious damage, nor was a sufficient alternative assessment carried out, as required by the Habitats Directive. The wolf as a strictly protected species is also native to Austria and may only be shot if the narrow conditions of the Directive are met and there is no other possibility for protection. In the specific case, the court did not consider the substantial/serious damage to be given. Furthermore, a formal error had occurred in the eligibility of the application and the decision had to be annulled. Together with other organisations, ÖKOBÜRO demands sustainable wolf management and proper protection measures.
 The Croatian Government is not interested in the public opinion on national climate policyJ&E member Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia issued a press release urging the Croatian Government to prolong the public consultation on the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) for the period 2021-2030 to 30 days. This is a continuation of a non-transparent process since the public consultation on the first draft of the NECP in 2018 lasted only four working days as well, between Christmas and New Year. In this way, the Croatian Government prevents the public, civil society, private sector and various institutions from contributing to this important document.
 Important precedent on public participation in CzechiaA Czech court ruled in favor of J&E member Frank Bold Society, stating that environmental NGOs were entitled to participate in the proceedings on life extension of the large combustion plant. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favor of the Frank Bold Society’s lawsuit, stating in a recent judgment that even a “mere” time extension of a permit to discharge the same amount of pollutants from a large combustion plant could have a significant negative impact on human health and the environment. Therefore, the authorities must allow environmental NGOs to take part in such proceedings. This is an important precedent that has the potential to ensure wider public participation in integrated permit change proceedings in Czechia in the future.
Silencing activists in BulgariaJ&E member BlueLink organised its traditional civic Action Time Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, on November 10, 2020, entitled “Litigation, traps and barriers – how we survive”. This time the event was fully online. The event presented an opportunity for environmental and human rights NGOs, and media experts and journalists to discuss issues and challenges of importance for civil society organisations defending the environment, human rights and core EU values. The 2020 Action Time edition focused specifically on SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) cases and administrative pressure on civil society. The session on SLAPP was co-organised by Justice and Environment, as part of a project funded by the EU’s LIFE NGO grant programme, and included presentation of  SLAPP cases against activists.
 Environmental justice couped by private justice in CroatiaZelena akcija has been fighting against a gated community style golf resort above the medieval city of Dubrovnik for over a decade. After Zelena akcija’s initial success in revoking the environmental and location permits, the investor staged a full-blown offensive. First they sued Croatia for the alleged 500 million Euros in front of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes based on the Croatia-Netherlands Bilateral Investment Treaty. Immediately thereafter the revoked permits were re-issued, with no changes to their content whatsoever. After Zelena akcija called the reissuing of permits a result of racqueteering, the organisation itself was sued by the investor – in both civil and criminal court. A few weeks ago, ZA won a first instance in the civil court. Criminal charges are still pending. Read more here.
 Documents from infringement proceedings can be classified as environmental information At the end of October 2020, the Supreme Administrative Court annulled the decision of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which refused to provide documents from the proceedings conducted by the European Commission against the Czech Republic regarding non-compliance with the Directive on ambient air quality. The Frank Bold Society requested the documents with regard to the above-limit concentration of fine dust particles (PM10) in the ambient air, which the Czech Republic exceeds. The Ministry must reconsider the request for information again and to assess it as an environmental information, where the reasons for refusal of providing the information are stricter in comparison with non-environmental information.
 Rejection of Austria’s first climate caseThe Austrian climate case against benefits for aviation was rejected by the Constitutional Court for strictly formal reasons. According to the court, the applicants are not directly violated in their rights. The Constitutional Court has recently rejected the climate case brought forward by the environmental organisation Greenpeace. Strictly speaking, the Greenpeace class action was a bundling of more than 8.000 individual applications that were jointly submitted to the court. The applicants challenged the constitutionality of several provisions concerning climate-damaging laws, reasoning that these legislations harmed their fundamental rights in view of the worsening climate crisis. Read more.
Lignite mining listed as a problem of supra-regional importance
The International commission for protection of Odra (ICPO) included lignite mining to the list of problems
of supra-r
Bold Society. This step implies that Poland, Germany and Czechia will have to work on seeking common solutions to prevent deterioration of water bodies caused by lignite mining in the next river basin management plan for the period from 2021 to 2027.

 Austrian infringement judgment translated
On May 11th 2020, the Federal Administrative Court in Austria finally granted the request by Justice and Environment from 2013, asking the Austrian government to hand over documents containing environmental information on infringement proceedings by the European Commission against the Republic of Austria.

 Whistleblowing case in Greece
J&E member the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) provided legal advice on freedom of expression and whistleblowing standards to a domestic lawyer representing a food specialist. The latter is facing a series of criminal and civil proceedings of a SLAPP nature instituted by the company he worked for after

revealing to the public that the company had ordered and used as a food disinfectant significant quantities of a substance that posed a threat to consumers’ health as well as to the environment. The food specialist was acquitted at first instance in two out of the three criminal proceedings filed against him by the company for libel. Regarding the civil proceedings, the first instance court turned down the company’s action for damages for hundreds of thousands of EUR for alleged loss of revenue. Following the company’s appeal, the case is now pending before the appeals’ court.

 Continued fight for the protection of untouched rivers in AustriaJ&E member group ÖKOBÜRO, together with WWF Austria, filed a final complaint to the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court regarding the permission for the hydropower plant “Schwarze Sulm”, while advocating for environmental protection and public involvement. Relevant expert opinions and planning documents of the power plant were withheld from the environmental protection organisations involved. In the opinion of ÖKOBÜRO, this constitutes a violation of the party status confirmed by the relevant ruling. Find out more.

 ECJ strengthens habitat protection of hamsters in an Austrian caseIn July 2020, the European Court of Justice confirmed the strict protection that the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive intends to guarantee. According to the judgement, even abandoned resting places of protected species, such as the European hamster, may not be damaged or destroyed if there is a high probability that the animals return. The reason for the legal dispute was that the burrows of Grand hamsters were destroyed in the course of clearing a construction site in Vienna for city expansion. This species, however, is threatened with extinction due to changes in agriculture and increasing surface sealing. Therefore, the European hamster is subject to strict protection according to the Directive, which aims to safeguard biodiversity in EU countries. Article 12 of the Directive prohibits all deliberate forms of capture or killing, deliberate disturbances and any damages to or the destruction of the breeding sites/resting places of protected animals. The Viennese magistrate imposed a sentence on the construction worker for the damage, which was appealed. The Administrative Court of Vienna submitted the interpretation of Article 12 to the European Court of Justice to clarify the facts.

Council reaches agreement on the European climate law
In December 2020, the European Council reached agreement on a general approach on the proposal for a European climate law, including a new EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. The main aim of the European climate law is to set into legislation the objective of a climate neutral EU by 2050. Having now set the newly minted target, Member States will start negotiations with the European Parliament over the final text of the Law. While it is a step forward, many European organisations have criticised the new target. Friends of the Earth is disappointed that the 55% target agreed includes controversial ‘net savings’ that would come from land and forest sinks, weakening the target. And that the agreement references “the right of Member States to decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technologies … such as gas” – a fossil fuel. Similarly, the EEB believes that the proposed regulation is not yet fit for purpose and has highlighted several areas where legal provisions must be clarified and strengthened to drastically reduce and avoid greenhouse gas emissions.

 Shell awaits judgement in historic climate case 
The judgement on Shell, one of the ten biggest climate polluters in the world, is now awaited, as lawyers for Friends of the Earth Netherlands have concluded their arguments after four days of public hearings during December 2020 in the historic climate case.

If successful, the judge would require Shell to comply with global climate goals and reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030. This unique lawsuit is not seeking compensation but to force Shell to alter its business model, which lawyers argue is not in line with the Paris Agreement. This has significant potential consequences for the climate and the wider fossil fuel industry. Due to its importance, the Dutch Court of Justice awarded special status to the case to make the legal process faster and more public than usual. A verdict from the judge is expected 26 May 2021.

 Air pollution has been listed as a cause of death
Dangerous levels ofair pollution “made a material contribution” to the death of nine-year-oldElla Kissi-Debrah inLondon in 2013, a coroner has ruled following a second inquest into the child’s death. The landmark result, following a two-week inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court means air pollution has been listed as a cause of death for the first time in the UK. In a detailed conclusion lasting almost an hour, assistant coroner Philip Barlow said: “I will conclude that Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”

 Class action lawsuits to become EU law
European consumers will soon be able to band together as groups in court after the European Parliament in November 2020 adopted legislation giving them the right to US-style class-action lawsuits. The measure will become law within the next two years, once it is published in the EU’s official administrative gazette, and member states change their laws to include it. Currently, only six EU countries offer what the European Consumer Organisation considers to be a full collective redress system. The EU legislation means that all 27 member states will have to allow consumers to launch group actions against a trader or company they believe has caused them loss or harm.

French court gives government three months to prove effective climate policyFrance’s highest legal body, the Council of State, ruled in November 2020 that the government has three months to justify that the measures “permitting a reduction” in greenhouse gas emissions are on the right track – and this despite never having previously dealt with a climate dispute. In January 2019, Grande-Synthe’s former mayor and now EELV MEP, Damien Carême, filed an appeal before the Council of State for “climate inaction”. The northern conurbation near Dunkirk is facing land and sea flooding, and soon rising sea levels. To make matters worse, the area is home to several Seveso-classified industrial sites and the Gravelines nuclear power plant. Read more.

 Shannon LNG quashed by the Irish High Court

In November 2020, Shannon LNG had all permissions to build its fracked gas import terminal quashed in the Irish High Court after a 13-year battle. This decision follows the judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from September in which it has found against the Irish State Planning Authority, which was responsible for extending planning permission for a fracked gas import terminal to the advantage of US fracked gas exporter ‘New Fortress Energy’. The completion of the legal process which has seen Shannon LNG lose all development consents to build a fracked gas import terminal in Ireland, has now opened up a window of opportunity for Ireland to ban the importation of fracked gas. 2021 will surely be a busy year for us, and we invite you to join us on our way.
Follow ourwebsite, Facebook page and Twitter account to get the latest updates.

 The whole team of Justice and Environment wishes you very happy holidays and a much more positive 2021!

INACH Annual Report 2020


INACH Annual Report 2020

2020 was a particular year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has shattered and weakened social, economic, and political life conditions in many continents. As the pandemic expanded, online phenomena of hate speech, fake news and conspiracy theories have increased dramatically almost everywhere. Indeed, the Internet and in particular social networks are a mirror which reflects as well as tends to exacerbate societies’ questions, debates, and above all failures and crisis. Covid-19 also had a huge impact on the way NGOs and civil society networks such as INACH usually work.

Yet, INACH’s Secretariat and the network quickly acted and reacted by re-organising all its activities in collaboration with its members to be able to continue to tackle all current phenomena of cyber-hate in an efficient way. Therefore, this year, INACH decided to take a different approach by providing online and accessible format when it comes to its events, training, projects, campaigns, and publications.

This annual report presents all the activities carried out by the network, its achievements, its recommendations as well as its plans. This report was conceived in order to offer a global and concise overview as well as to provide a deeper and extensive insight into the contributions of INACH’s Secretariat and the network.

Go check out the report here. 

Παγκόσμια Ημέρα Ανθρώπινων Δικαιωμάτων: Σχόλια σε κείμενα Προέδρου Δημοκρατίας και Εθνικής Επιτροπής για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου

Greece (from The Freedom of Thought Report 2020 – Humanists International)

The launch of the Freedom of Thought Report 2020 | Hans Thoolen on Human  Rights Defenders


Last Updated 13 October 2020
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Greece is a unitary parliamentary republic on the edge of the Balkan Peninsula, often regarded as the birthplace of democracy in Europe and a catalyst to western civilisation. The country has seen steady economic, social and legal changes in recent years with leftist government attempts towards secularisation of the country. However, Greek Orthodox privilege still exists and is still prevalent across the country and religion is still firmly woven into the fabric of major institutions. Financial crisis and the rise of far-right politics have been significant factors in the past several years.

Constitution and governmentEducation and children’s rightsFamily, community, society, religious courts and tribunalsFreedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
There is systematic religious privilegeState-funding of religious institutions or salaries, or discriminatory tax exemptions
State-funded schools offer religious or ideological instruction with no secular or humanist alternative, but it is optionalLocalised or infrequent but recurring and widespread social marginalisation or prejudice against the non-religiousSome concerns about political or media freedoms, not specific to the non-religious


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Constitution and government

The constitution, other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 3 of the constitution states that ‘the prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ’, recent governments have proposed for this Article to be amended to one emphasising ‘religious neutrality’.1

Freedom of speech and press are protected under Article 14, ‘every person may express and propagate his thoughts orally, in writing and through the press in compliance with the laws of the State’. However the “blasphemy” law was abolished only in 2019. Suggestions of reintroducing the provision were scrapped following public outcry.2

Orthodox Privilege

The government financially supports the Orthodox Church; for example, the government pays for the salaries and religious training of clergy, finances the maintenance of Orthodox Church buildings, and exempts from tax Orthodox Church’s revenues from properties it owns.

Whilst state sponsorship of the Greek Orthodox religion is still entrenched, recent leftist governments have taken steps toward disestablishment of the Orthodox church.

The former government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed changes to significantly reduce the role of the Orthodox Church in the public sector. The government announced to ‘free up’ 10,000 civil service roles occupied by the clerics of the church, however they would continue to pay the salary of clerics with a subsidy of €200 million annually.3 The government also proposed to introduce the concept of ‘religious neutrality’ to the Constitution in an attempt to remove privilege from religions. These changes and proposals were highly criticised by religious conservatives who criticized the government for their lack of faith.4

Education and children’s rights

Orthodox religious instruction in primary and secondary schools, at government expense, remains mandatory for all students during their 12 years of compulsory education. Although students may exempt themselves for reasons of “conscience”, in practice public schools offer no alternative activity or non-Orthodox religious instruction for these children.

Until 2019, references to the student’s religious affiliation and citizenship were stated on school leaving certificates. As per decisions of the Data Protection Authority and the Supreme Administrative Court, this requirement has been removed. In addition there is no longer a mandatory reference to the non-Orthodox religion of child students who seek exemption from religious education, as they can now invoke reasons of conscience.

Family, Community and Society

Religion was and still is often assumed in Greek society with polls supporting the prevalence of the Eastern Orthodox religion. A 2005 poll revealed that 96.6% of the census were Orthodox Christian and only 2% identified as atheist. However, a more recent poll (2015) showed that this had changed significantly to 81.4% Orthodox Christians and 14.7% non-religious.

Despite a rise in non-religion, the Orthodox faith is still embedded in many activities and traditions of local communities, all the way up to the President of the Republic who, although an atheist, had to take a religious oath prescribed by the Constitution on the assumption of office in 2020. However, since 2019, the choice between making a religious oath or a civil affirmation in criminal proceedings has been abolished; all citizens now make a civil affirmation.

However, religion is still registered in civil registries of births, marriages, civil partnerships, and deaths.5 The registration of religion in birth certificates is the object of an application communicated to Greece by the EctHR in 2020 (Papanikolaou v. Greece).6

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Greece is a free country with an open and vigorous parliamentary democracy, according to Freedom House, however “[o]ngoing concerns include corruption, discrimination against immigrants and minorities, and poor conditions for undocumented migrants and refugees.”7

The rise of the far-right in recent years is cause for concern and has resulted in harassment and acts of violence or hatred.

In October 2019, humanists protested the harassment through parliamentary procedures of Panayote Dimitras, a human rights activist associated with Greek Helsinki Monitor and Humanist Union of Greece, by the president of a far-right nationalist party.8

Blasphemy law abolished in 2019

After a number of high-profile blasphemy cases and international criticism, the “blasphemy” law was abolished in 2019.9

Article 198 of the Greek Penal Code stated that “1. One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years; 2. Anyone, except as described in par.1, who displays publicly with blasphemy a lack of respect for things divine, is punished with up to 3 months in prison.”

Article 199 declared similar provisions against anyone who “blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerable in Greece”, imprisonable for up to two years.

The ‘blasphemy’ law had been actively used to persecute individuals and groups for portraying, mocking or insulting the Orthodox religion in the form of art or on social media outlets.



“Κίτρινη κάρτα” για υπερπληθυσμό & απαράδεκτες συνθήκες κράτησης από Συμβούλιο της Ευρώπης

Υπερπληθυσμός και απαράδεκτες συνθήκες κράτησης: νέα “κίτρινη κάρτα” για μη συμμόρφωση με καταδικαστικές αποφάσεις του ΕΔΔΑ (από την Επιτροπή Υπουργών του Συμβουλίου της Ευρώπης)