Greece drops some espionage charges against aid workers who rescued migrants from the sea
A Greek court has dismissed espionage charges against a group of aid workers who rescued migrants from the sea, a move hailed by rights groups and lawmakers.
Irish-German national Sean Binder and 23 other aid workers were cleared of misdemeanor charges by a court on the island of Lesvos on Friday, but criminal charges against the group remain pending.
The court in the capital of the island of Mytilene stopped the prosecution of some of the misdemeanor charges because of “procedural irregularities” in the investigation, Binder’s lawyer, Zacharias Kessas, said outside court.
“They realized that there are some procedural irregularities that prevented the court from proceeding on the merits of the charge, so with respect to the misdemeanors, one could say that the charges have been dropped,” Kessas said.
“But we can’t be happy about it because really they just realized what we’ve been shouting about for the last four years, so there’s still a lot to do to get to the final step which is the crimes that are still ongoing, and the investigation is still ongoing.”
A statement from Amnesty International on Friday said the Lesvos court “returned the indictment to the prosecutor due to procedural deficiencies, including the failure to translate the indictment”.
Binder and Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini were arrested in 2018 after participating in several search and rescue operations with the non-profit organization Emergency Response Center International near Lesvos, an island in the Aegean Sea.
The group faced four charges classified by Greek judicial authorities as “misdemeanors”: espionage, disclosure of state secrets, illegal use of radio frequencies and forgery, according to a statement from the UN Human Rights Office.
The court’s move was welcomed by human rights groups and politicians.
Lawmakers from the European Union said it was “a step towards justice”.
A spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, welcomed the court’s recommendation to drop some of the charges but reiterated the UN’s call “for all charges against all defendants to be dropped”.
Binder’s elected representative, MEP Grace O’Sullivan, said the prosecution was “basically full of holes” in a video posted on Twitter.
“Good news from Greece. We have just heard that Sean Binder and the other humanitarian search and rescue workers have had their charges dropped,” she said.
While misdemeanor charges were dropped on Friday, an investigation into allegations of crimes against aid workers remains pending, Amnesty International said in a statement.
The aid workers face charges of assisting smuggling networks, being members of a criminal organization and money laundering – charges that could result in up to 25 years in prison if convicted, according to a European Parliament report published in June 2021.
Referring to the pending felony charges, O’Sullivan said while they didn’t know how long that would take, “today is actually a step in the right direction. A step toward justice.”
“All we want is justice. We want this to go to trial and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon given what happened today,” Binder said outside court.
“At the same time, we have been lucky to have so much international support, everywhere, and I think this has forced the prosecution of this court to at least recognize the mistakes made and at least to some extent there has been less injustice. ”