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Aid workers trial in Greece adjourned amid protests

Among them Sara Mardini accused of espionage

10 January, 17:33

    (ANSAmed) - ATHENS, 10 GEN - A group of 24 aid workers and volunteers who participated in migrant rescue operations on the Greek island of Lesvos have had their trial in Lesvos, Greece adjourned today amid protests and calls from human rights groups that authorities drop the "absurd" charges of spying and disclosing state secrets.

    The trial, which was initially set to go ahead in 2021 but was postponed over procedural issues, started on Tuesday as expected but was later adjourned. The smuggling-related case has been widely criticized by human rights groups.

    There were protests outside the court ahead of the start of the trial, with hashtags such as #DropTheCharges and #SolidarityOnTrial also started on social media in support of the aid workers, while banners were put up outside the court with slogans such as "If helping is a crime then we are all criminals".

    The defendants, including many who spent several months in pre-trial detention, face a range of charges including misdemeanor counts of espionage-related offenses, illegal access to state communications and assisting criminal activity. They all deny all charges, saying they did nothing more than help rescue people whose lives were in danger. The trial is expected to continue on Friday.

    Two 28-year-olds - the Syrian refugee Sara Mardini and the German activist Sean Binder - are the most in the spotlight in this trial, which many observers have called the "largest case of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe".

    Mardini, who now lives and studies in Berlin, disembarked on Lesbos as a refugee in 2015.

    After the boat she was travelling on with her sister Yusra - with whom she shared a passion for swimming - experienced engine failure, the sisters pulled the boat to shore and saved their 18 travel companions. Yusra later took part as swimmer in the Rio Olympics in a refuge team. The story had inspired a Netflix film, 'The Swimmers'.

    Only a year after her arrival in Europe, in 2016, Sara decided to return to the Greek island as a volunteer to take part in search and rescue operations for migrants at sea. In 2018 she and Binder were arrested. They spent over 100 days in jail before being released on bail. The two are under investigation for human trafficking, belonging to a criminal organisation, and money laundering, crimes that carry a sentence of up to 20 years in jail.

    "What is on trial today is human rights. That is the fundamental problem," Binder told reporters outside the court before Tuesday's proceedings began. "We are desperate to go to trial because what we did was legal, and we need the judge to acknowledge that we need to get through this, because until then, there is a shadow of doubt, not over me alone, but over anybody who does search and rescue." "Sarah and Sean did what any of us should do if we were in their position. Helping people at risk of drowning in one of the deadliest sea routes in Europe and assisting them on the shoreline is not a crime," commented Nils Muiznieks, director of Amnesty's European Regional Office, in a media statement ahead of Tuesday's hearing.

    He added: "This trial reveals how the Greek authorities will go to extreme lengths to deter humanitarian assistance and discourage migrants and refugees from seeking safety on the country's shores, something which we see in a number of European countries," he said. "It is farcical that this trial is even taking place." Last year Amnesty pointed out that hundreds of people like Sarah and Seán have been criminalized across Europe for doing humanitarian work helping refugees and migrants. In a 2020 report Amnesty detailed the numerous ways in which European governments have deployed restrictive, sanctioning and punitive measures against people who defend refugees and migrants' rights. They do so by misusing laws and policies, including the legally ambiguous and inconsistent rules in the so-called EU Facilitators' Package. Dozens of prosecutions have been launched against individuals and NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontieres, in Italy, Greece, France and Switzerland. (ANSAmed).

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