Greece: humanitarian workers’ lives remain on hold as trial is adjourned

Greece: humanitarian workers’ lives remain on hold as trial is adjourned

  • Spokespeople available in Lesvos

Reacting to the decision of a court in Lesvos, Greece, to adjourn the case of 24 humanitarian workers, including search and rescue volunteers Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder, who risk 25 years in prison for helping and defending the rights of refugees, Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Senior Campaigner on Migration for Amnesty International said: 

“These trumped-up charges are farcical and should never have resulted in Sarah and Seán appearing in court. Today’s adjournment means that having already waited over three years, this ordeal will continue to drag on for Sarah and Seán, leaving them in limbo. We call for the Greek authorities to uphold their human rights obligations, and drop the charges against Sarah and Seán.”

“Today’s decision is further proof of the absurdity of this case. All we have done is assist people seeking safety at a time of need. After today’s decision, our lives are once again left on hold. 

Seán Binder

Sarah Mardini, a 25-year-old Syrian refugee, and Seán Binder, a 27-year-old German national, face a series of unfair and baseless charges dating from the time they spent volunteering to spot and help people in boats in distress off the coast of Lesvos.  

Greek authorities’ refusal to lift Sarah Mardini’s travel ban means that Sarah has not been able to attend her own trial.

“The injustice of these absurd charges is being further compounded by the Greek authorities’ flagrant violation of Sarah’s right to a fair trial, which includes the fundamental right to attend one’s own trial”, said Giorgos Kosmopoulos.    

“Amnesty International is dismayed by the decision by the Greek authorities to criminalise Sarah and Sean. We stand alongside Seán and Sarah and will continue campaigning until justice is fully delivered, their human rights are respected and upheld and all charges against them dropped.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos

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Sarah originally arrived in Lesvos as a refugee in 2015. When the engine of the boat she was on failed, Sarah and her sister saved 18 fellow passengers by dragging the sinking boat to safety. Later, she returned to Greece and went on to volunteer at a Greek search and rescue organization, where she met Seán, a trained diver. Sarah and Seán were arrested in 2018 on numerous charges including smuggling, espionage, unlawful use of radio frequencies, and fraud.

At today’s trial, Sarah and Seán faced charges that can carry a sentence of up to 8 years. They also face felony charges, including people smuggling, fraud, membership of a criminal organisation and money laundering which, if they come to trial, could lead to up to 25 years imprisonment.  

Hundreds of people like Sarah and Seán face criminalization and other obstacles for doing humanitarian work helping refugees and migrants across Europe. In a 2020 report, Amnesty International detailed the numerous ways in which European governments have deployed restrictive, sanctioning and punitive measures against people who defend refugees and migrants’ rights. Dozens of prosecutions have been launched against individuals and NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontieres, in Italy, Greece, France and Switzerland.  

According to a legal opinion from human rights legal firm Leigh Day, there have been several serious breaches of international human rights law in Seán’s case to date. The Leigh Day legal opinion is available on request.

Free Humanitarians 

Amnesty International Report: Europe: Punishing compassion: Solidarity on trial in Fortress Europe 

Amnesty International campaign, Solidarity on trial: People in Europe are being targeted for helping refugees and migrants