Aid workers on trial in Greece on charges of espionage after refugee rescue

Twenty-four people affiliated with the International Emergency Response Center (ERCI), a nonprofit search and rescue group that operated in Lesvos from 2016 to 2018, face up to eight years in prison when the trial will open on Thursday.

They also face felony charges, including human trafficking, membership of a criminal group and money laundering, which carry sentences of 25 years in prison.

Amnesty International’s European director, Nils Muiznieks, said the accusations were “crass”.

“This emblematic case shows how far the Greek authorities will go to deter people from helping refugees and migrants,” he said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch called the trial “politically motivated.”

Among those to be tried is Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee who took an overcrowded dinghy to Greece with her sister Yusra in 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, and rescued the other 19 passengers by pulling their boat in. perdition to the shore for four hours. .

Mardini and another volunteer, Sean Binder, a German national, were arrested in 2018 and spent 107 days in Athens maximum security prison on remand.

Both left Greece after being released, and Binder returned despite his misgivings about the trial.

“I never for a moment thought that trying to help someone at sea would put you in jail,” Binder told Reuters in Athens. “I’m afraid of going back to prison.

He said he was handcuffed in prison to a man who committed a double homicide by burning someone alive.

“It’s scary to go back and I’m not convinced that just because there is absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing… I’m still not convinced we won’t be convicted,” he said. he declared.

Mardini, who now lives in Germany, has been barred from returning to Greece and will be represented by a lawyer.

“It is mind-boggling why someone cannot attend their own trial,” said Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a senior Amnesty activist, calling on the authorities to drop the charges during a solidarity protest outside the Greek parliament.

Binder, a lifeguard diver, said he only intended to volunteer for a while.

“I didn’t intend to spend the rest of my life doing that, to be some kind of champion,” he said.

“If you saw somebody drowning, you would do the same thing I did, reach out your hand, pull it out, and that’s exactly the same crime I’m accused of committing.”

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