Greek court rejects charges against aid workers | Courts News

Greek court rejects charges against aid workers | Courts News

The court of Lesbos says the cases brought against two dozen people have procedural flaws.

A court on the Greek island of Lesbos has dismissed charges against a group of aid workers and volunteers who took part in migrant rescue operations, ruling on procedural grounds to return the case to the prosecution for a retrial.

The case in which 24 people, 17 foreigners and seven Greeks, were charged for their work with newly arrived migrants on Lesvos has drawn widespread criticism from human rights organisations. The defendants argue that they were doing nothing more than helping people whose lives were in danger.

“Courts like this are deeply troubling because they criminalize life-saving work and set a dangerous precedent,” the UN Human Rights Office said before the court’s ruling on Friday. “Indeed, it has already had a chilling effect, with human rights defenders and humanitarian organizations forced to halt their human rights work in Greece and other EU countries.”

Those on trial included prominent Syrian human rights worker Sarah Mardini, a refugee and competitive swimmer whose sister Yusra Mardini was part of the refugee swimming team at the Olympics in 2016 and 2021. The sisters’ story turned into a Netflix movie.

A protester hangs a banner outside the court in Mytilene on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos [Panagiotis Balaskas/AP]

Sarah Mardini, who was not present at Friday’s hearing, and fellow volunteer Sean Binder, who was in Lesvos to attend the trial, spent more than three months in prison on the island after their arrest in in 2018 on misdemeanor charges that included espionage, forgery and illegal. use of radio frequencies.

The court on Friday accepted the objections of the defense lawyers that the prosecution had not followed the proper procedure in bringing the charges. The defense successfully argued that prosecution documents had not been translated for the foreign defendants and the espionage charges were vague.

The court dismissed the radio frequency charges because the law under which they were filed has since been repealed.

“Too many legal mistakes”

Essentially, the ruling means the misdemeanor case has failed because the five-year statute of limitations on the espionage and forgery charges expires in early February, and the prosecution is unlikely to have enough time to repair the case.

However, a Greek defendant still faces a misdemeanor charge of forgery, and Sarah Mardini and Binder are still under investigation on felony charges.

“It is a step. It is the first recognition that there have been many legal errors that violate the essence of a fair trial,” said defense attorney Cleo Papapantoleon. “The decision is important for us and we expect the same to happen with the investigation of crimes, for which there is also no evidence.

The case was originally set to continue in 2021, but was postponed due to procedural issues.

“Today’s decision offers the authorities a new opportunity to end this ordeal and correct their wrongdoing by dropping all charges, including the most serious felony charges still pending,” said Nils Muiznieks, director of the European Regional of Amnesty International. Office.

Greece, which saw around a million people arrive on its shores from neighboring Turkey at the height of a refugee crisis in 2015, has cracked down on immigration, erecting a fence along much of its land border with Turkey and increasing naval patrols near its islands.

Greek officials say they have a strict but fair migration policy. They also deny, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, carrying out illegal summary deportations of people who arrive on Greek soil without allowing them to apply for asylum, a procedure known as “vacations”.

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