Refugee aid workers to go on trial in Greece | Refugees News

Athens, Greece – Twenty-four defendants are anticipated to go on trial on the Greek island of Lesbos on Tuesday in relation to their work with refugees, in what has been described by specialists as “the most important case of criminalisation of solidarity” in Europe.

Rights teams have additionally decried the authorized proceedings as chaotic, complicated and farcical.

Whereas among the 24 are charged with spying and forgery, others are accused of illegally listening to radio frequencies.

And whereas some perceive which fees they face, others stay at the hours of darkness as a result of they’re listed in official paperwork by quantity, and never identify, based on Human Rights Watch – one of many many organisations which have criticised the trial.

All of the defendants, who hail from a number of totally different nations together with Greece, deny the costs towards them.

The case has been ongoing for years and will take months to conclude.

It has is a part of a worsening battle between Greek authorities and civil society.

For the reason that peak of the refugee disaster, Greece, which has taken in hundreds of individuals fleeing warfare and poverty over time, has more and more cracked down on and scrutinised teams and activists, alleging some have aided smuggling. In the meantime, rights teams have accused Greek authorities of mistreating refugees and illegally pushing them again at sea.

Among the many accused in Tuesday’s trial is Sarah Mardini, the sister of the Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini.

The Syrian siblings have been celebrated for his or her efforts to save lots of 18 fellow passengers after they helped drag their sinking refugee dinghy to security on the journey from Turkey to Greece in 2015. Their story was later was the Netflix movie, “The Swimmers.”

Yusra went on to swim within the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and Sarah, after receiving refugee standing in Germany, returned to Lesbos to volunteer with refugees arriving on the island’s shores.

“I assumed I may provide one thing there. It was a ardour for me simply to be there for different individuals,” Sarah stated in a current interview of her time volunteering on the Greek island.

In August 2018, nonetheless, she was arrested together with Seán Binder, a German citizen, when each have been working for the ERCI (Emergency Response Heart Worldwide) NGO, a search and rescue group.

Mardini and Binder have been held in pre-trial detention for 106 days earlier than being launched.


Greek authorities allege that Mardini and Binder have been amongst those that have monitored Greek Coast Guard radio channels and used a Jeep with faux army plates.

Mardini may withstand eight years in jail for the costs of espionage.

The spying allegations seek advice from the defendants’ use of an “encrypted messaging service” – the favored communication app, WhatsApp.

The Greek authorities had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for remark on the time of publication.

The 24 defendants additionally face a separate investigation, by which they haven’t but been charged, on allegations together with smuggling and cash laundering. On these fees, they might withstand 25 years in jail.

‘Unfair and baseless accusations’

Tuesday’s proceedings concern the misdemeanour fees and is the second try to carry a trial. The primary was abruptly adjourned in November 2021 when the courtroom realised it didn’t have jurisdiction over one of many defendants, a lawyer, and needed to hand the case to a courtroom with the next authority.

Mardini, who was beforehand banned from coming into Greece, won’t attend courtroom.

Binder, who can be current, stated there nonetheless seems to be severe points with the case, citing a lacking web page of the indictment.

“If we’re discovered responsible of spying as a result of we used WhatsApp, if we’re facilitators of unlawful entry as a result of we did search and rescue, if we’re cash launderers as a result of we labored as a charity, then anyone who does search and rescue who works in a charity, or who makes use of WhatsApp can be responsible of those crimes,” he stated, including that the case has had a chilling impact on humanitarian work in Europe.

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, senior campaigner on migration at Amnesty Worldwide informed Al Jazeera: “Sarah and Sean’s ordeal speaks volumes about Greece’s efforts to maintain refugees and migrants away by any means and the way that additionally contains those that would assist them in an hour of want.

“The accusations they face are unfair and baseless and ought to be dropped to allow them to keep on with their lives.”

Comparisons have been drawn between the Greek episode and ongoing prosecution of members of the Iuventa search and rescue ship in Italy, the place NGO employees withstand 20 years in jail for “facilitating unlawful immigration.”

“That is an official try and criminalise humanitarian help,” Zacharias Kesses, Mardini and Binder’s lawyer informed Al Jazeera. “The police created a very chaotic felony file with no proof in any respect, solely primarily based on arbitrary assumptions.

“They carry on renaming humanitarian help as facilitation of migrant smuggling.

He highlighted the impression on some defendants, saying: “Plenty of time has been misplaced and many individuals have been traumatised and have a significant issue occurring with their lives.”

‘Unlawful pushbacks’

Invoice Van Esveld, affiliate youngsters’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, stated the case had “turned legal guidelines and info on their heads and positioned the freedom of humanitarians from throughout the European Union at stake.”

“Search and rescue has all however stopped in Greece and we’ve seen a number of reviews exhibiting the Greek authorities illegally pushing refugees again to Turkey,” stated Grace O’Sullivan, an Irish member of the European Parliament who has travelled to Lesbos for the trial.

Greek authorities have denied involvement in unlawful pushbacks, which have been documented by rights teams and journalists.

O’Sullivan stated she hoped the authorities would “throw these ridiculous fees out as a primary step”.

She is one in every of greater than 80 politicians within the European Parliament who’ve signed a letter in assist of the defendants.

“[It’s] a menace to all of us and a menace to the concept of the ‘so-called’ European values,” stated Binder, who was raised in Eire. “I feel that there’s much more at stake [here] than a gaggle of 24 humanitarians.”

The trial is predicted to start at round 9am (07:00 GMT).