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Greek prosecutors drop charges against refugee rescuers

Defendants and activists say victory is only partial as some indictments remain

THE DISMISSAL of all misdemeanour charges against 24 refugee rescuers in Greece today is but a partial victory, the defendants and fellow activists said, as some felony charges still remain.

The activists, who volunteered with Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), had been accused of fraud, forgery, people smuggling, espionage, being members of a criminal organisation, and money laundering after saving thousands of lives in the waters and coastlines around of the Greek island of Lesbos between 2017 and 2018.

Both the charges against them and the drawn-out nature of the trial have been described by human rights organisations like Amnesty International as “farcical.”

The case finally restarted on Tuesday after it was postponed in November 2021, but it was delayed again to today.

When the case resumed this morning, the prosecution recommended that all charges brought against Sara Mardini and Sean Binder be annulled due to the lack of translation.

The prosecution also called for the annulment of the espionage charges brought against the 22 Greek defendants due to the vagueness of the indictments.

The judges agreed, and the charges were dropped. But two of the Greek defendants will be referred to other courts, one for forgery and the other for assisting a criminal organisation

Mr Binder still faces felony charges for fraud, which carry up to 25 years behind bars, and the statute of limitations for that last for 15 years.

“This isn’t justice,” Mr Binder said today outside the court after the trial. “Justice would have been a trial four years ago, when we would have been found innocent.

“This is the prosecution, four years later, realising that they needed to issue a translated indictment, an indictment that wasn’t completely vague, an indictment that was just workable.

“It means that we don’t get to go to trial. It means that we don’t get to have ourselves found not guilty.

“It is simply a procedural mistake that means [the trial] cannot proceed. And if this same tactic gets deployed again for the felony trial, which we’re still waiting to happen, it’s 15 more years of waiting of errors.

“We want this to go to trial. And it doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime soon, given what happened today.

“At least, to some extent, there has been less injustice. But what we want is justice.”

Greek human rights lawyer Alexandros Georgoulis compared the trial to that of Mohammad Hanad, a Somali man who had been sentenced to 146 years in prison for people smuggling until an appeals court set him free on Monday.

“Both accusations against Mohammad Hanad and Sarah Mardini, Sean Binder, etc, are based on the same logic: to stop migration flows with any cost,” Mr Georgoulis told The Civil Fleet.

“There is an organised attempt by the government to crack down on NGOs and criminalise solidarity.

“Awarding criminal charges against humanitarian workers and rescuers attempts to deter future rescue efforts as well as any efforts to document the illegal practices of the Greek coastguard related to pushbacks, at a time when there are a lot of reports of this kind of incidents.

“Casting refugees as traffickers is symptomatic of a wider policy, aimed at preventing men, women and children from attempting to make such journeys.”

Fenix, a non-profit legal aid organisation in Greece, echoed Mr Binder’s sentiment, saying that though today’s decision is a victory in many ways, the court has not recognised that saving lives and solidarity with asylum seekers is not a crime.

“The procedural errors that have led to today’s annulment have been raised by the defence for the last four years. Despite these issues, the case was brought to court.

“This shows once again the trend of deterring solidarity with asylum seekers through misuse of the legal system.

“Saving lives, supporting asylum seekers or seeking refuge should never be treated as a crime.”

Victoria Kaiser, an activist from the Mare Liberum human rights monitoring group, described today’s victory a partial win, “as other charges remain,” she told The Civil Fleet today.

“The trial against the 24 people is a farce and full of procedural errors – just like the thousands of trials against people on the move, imprisoned for alleged smuggling.

“These trials usually take place without public attention, without access to adequate legal aid and support.

“Greece is neither respecting national law nor judicial standards in its political strategy to criminalise migration and all those who stand in solidarity.

“The only difference this time: the defendants have adequate legal representation and the
world is watching.”

Kathrin Schmidt — a rescue worker who saved over 14,000 lives in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Iuventa and who is currently on trial in Italy with four others facing similar charges to the ERCI activists — told The Civil Fleet today that she was glad for every small victory in our comrades’ trial.

“But it seems that, just like in Italy, the Greek prosecution once more proves its strategy is based on procedural errors and extensive delays.

“This is neither applying national law, nor justice, but political abuse of a judiciary system to delegitimise solidarity structures and distract from Greek’s own committed crimes.”

Meanwhile, since The Civil Fleet last reported on the Ocean Viking and Geo Barents rescue ships, both have disembarked the rescued at the port of Ancona.

Top picture shows some of the defendants and their lawyers outside the court [Pic: Amnesty International]

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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