When Should Government Suppress the Truth About Powerful Men?

That’s a trick question. Government is always tempted to punish those who reveal unwelcome truths, just as it’s always tempted to protect the rich and powerful by selective enforcement of vague laws.

But even good liberals and libertarians seem to have trouble seeing the problem when suppression of truth and protection of the powerful is done in the name of privacy.

Here as elsewhere, though, events in Greece are doing much to strip the gauze off our illusions:

Prosecutors on Monday set a fast-track trial date for the investigative journalist arrested last weekend after publishing a politically sensitive list of Greeks said to have Swiss bank accounts.

The snowballing case has raised questions about press freedom and Greece’s willingness to crack down on tax evasion.

Prosecutors said that Kostas Vaxevanis, the editor of Hot Doc magazine, would be tried Thursday in Athens on charges of interfering with sensitive personal data in a one-hearing procedure that is routine in Greece for misdemeanors. If found guilty, he could face a minimum prison term of one year and a fine of around €30,000, or about $39,000, one of his lawyers said.

For more, here’s NPR on the same case.

UPDATE I: The trial did occur on Thursday, and Vaxevanis was acquitted.  The prosecutor’s strategy will leave litigators scratching their heads:

 The prosecutor, Iraklis Pasalidis, called no witnesses and sat stone-faced during most of the trial. He submitted a blank witness list to the judge, a move that one lawyer deemed “an analogy of the blank nature of the allegations.” … Pasalidis nevertheless argued strongly that Vaxevanis should be found guilty for defaming people without determining their guilt. “These are the culprits, take them and crucify them,” Pasalidis told the court. “Is this a solution to the country’s problems? Cannibalism?”

Thanks, Jason.

UPDATE II: Privacy campaigners sure can be persistent where the rich and powerful fundamental rights to privacy are concerned.  Prosecutors have announced that they will retry Vaxevanis:

The Athens public prosecutor’s office found the judge’s verdict in Mr. Vaxevanis’s case to be “legally mistaken” and wants it re-examined, a court official said, adding that a date for a retrial had yet to be set.

“Such appeals by the prosecutor are not unusual, particularly in cases where personal privacy are concerned,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law at the University of Athens.”