The Greek judiciary canceled the “espionage” procedure against 24 humanitarian workers in Lesbos

24 aid workers accused of smuggling have been acquitted of “espionage” charges before a court in Mytilene on the island of Mytilene, Greece. On the other hand, they are still subject to a procedure related to migrant smuggling, an investigation is underway.

In particular, those accused of fraud and espionage faced the risk of up to 8 years in prison in Greece. The request of 24 humanitarian workers tried on the island of Lesbos was heard. The Greek justice, on Friday, January 13, canceled the procedure targeting them for “espionage”, announced the court where these individuals were tried.

This decision puts an end to the controversial trial, which has been condemned by the UN and NGOs. A separate procedure targeting these humanitarian workers, particularly migrant smuggling, is still under investigation in Greece.

The court in Lesbos is opting to drop the espionage charges for all the foreign defendants, who are former migrant rescue volunteers, due to procedural flaws, including the failure to translate the indictment, the court said.

Humanitarian aid workers were trapped

“We felt like hostages for four and a half years,” Nasos Karakitsos, one of the main defendants, told AFP shortly after the court’s decision.

Other defendants include Sara Mardini. The famous Berlin-based Syrian refugee rose to fame in 2015 for his exploits in the Aegean Sea, where he helped bring the migrant boat he was on with his Olympic swimmer sister Yusra to the island of Mytilene, saving the passengers. The man whose journey inspired the film Les Nageuses returned to the island in 2016, this time no longer as a migrant but as a volunteer rescuer with the newly formed Emergency Response Center International (ERCI). .

In the summer of 2018, he was arrested for his activities in this NGO, imprisoned for 106 days and then released on bail. Since then, he, like everyone else, has been waiting for the outcome of the trial.

>> To read: Chaotic justice reigns in Greece against the arrival of migrants (1/2)

One of the many defendants, Sean Binder, who met in Lesbos, expressed his anger and frustration to InfoMigrants during the trial. A volunteer of the International NGO Emergency Response Center (ERCI) for 10 months, he was arrested together with Sarah Mardini in 2018.

The missions of the two humanitarian aid workers consisted of patrols along the coast, binoculars in hand, searching for boats in distress, as well as interventions at sea when the situation required. Often they made simple gestures and “smiles” addressed to migrants who had just disembarked.

Criticized procedure

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously asked Greek courts to drop all charges against humanitarian aid workers who aided migrants.

Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the High Commission, said on Friday: “This kind of testing is really worrying because it criminalises life-saving actions and sets a dangerous precedent.”

The procedure, launched by the Greek state in 2018, has led to the suspension of most migrant rescue NGOs at sea in Greece, which is also accused of practicing illegal pushes on its border with neighboring Turkey.

>> To read again: The “grotesque” trial of those helping migrants in Greece 2/2

This highly publicized trial, presented by the European Parliament as “the biggest case of the criminalization of solidarity in Europe,” “could be a joke,” said Sean Binder, “if it weren’t for the people who died (at sea) during it.”

In turn, Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization, assessed this trial as a “farce”, considering that its purpose was to discourage other humanitarian organizations from helping migrants and thus prevent them from coming to the country.

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