Since Europe’s so-called refugee and migrant crisis of 2015, activists championing the rights of people seeking safe haven in EU member states have borne the brunt of repressive laws and policies in countries ranging from Belgium and France to Spain, Italy and Greece.

“Defenders in the Labyrinth”, a web documentary, delves into the causes and consequences of the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Europe. While spanning eight countries, it emphasises the stories of activists in Belgium, Italy and Spain who have been prosecuted for their work.

Led by Spanish journalists Lucía Muñoz Lucena and Ruth de Frutos, the investigation identified three patterns of vilification of migrant rights activists in Europe: the promotion of a toxic environment that leads to personal attacks and stigmatization of their work, prosecution in the activists’ home countries, and the implementation of bureaucratic obstacles that hinder their work.

These patterns ultimately contribute to a shrinking of the European civil space.

“Defenders in the Labyrinth” is available in both English and Spanish and focuses on the cases of three human rights activists who have faced legal repercussions: Helena Maleno from Spain and Morocco, Anouk Van Gestel from Belgium, and Kathrin Schmidt from Italy.

The documentary is designed to be interactive, allowing users to navigate the content through an interactive map and access the stories and sources used in the investigation.

During production and post-production, the team published stories in various media and collaborated with other journalists interested in pursuing the topic.

The documentary premiered in December 2022 at the Film Library of Andalusia in Cordoba, Spain, an event held in collaboration with Amnesty International in Andalusia and the Andalusian Union of Journalists. Two of the rights activists featured — Anouk Van Gestel and Kathrin Schmidt — attended the screening.

The team

  • Lucía Muñoz was the team coordinator. She is a Spanish freelance journalist specialising in human rights and migration and is a member of Entrefronteras, which produces audiovisual content for TeleSur, Associated Press and other international outlets.
  • Ruth de Frutos is a Spanish professor of journalism and a reporter specialising in human rights. She combines these roles at the University of Malaga, where she collaborates with media such as La Poderío, La Marea, El Salto and Píkara Magazine.
  • Cristian Pirovano is an Argentinian-Italian photojournalist based in Italy. For the past decade, he has covered international affairs, work that has taken him to Palestine, Argentina, Spain and Greece.
  • Jenny Tsiropoulou is a freelance journalist based in Athens. She has worked as a reporter and field producer with media including Al Jazeera, VICE, Euronews, Bild, Middle EastEye and The Christian Science Monitor.

See the stories below.

Published stories