Greece adjourns trial of Sarah Mardini, other migrant aid workers

Greece adjourns trial of Sarah Mardini, other migrant aid workers
Greece has adjourned the trial on espionage charges of Syrian swimmer Sarah Mardini and over twenty other activists who helped migrants reach the country
2 min read
18 November, 2021
Sarah Mardini has been accused of 'espionage' following her efforts to help refugees [Getty]

The trial of two dozen humanitarian activists who helped migrants reach Greece three years ago was adjourned on Thursday shortly after opening and moved to an appeals court.

The activists, who are accused of espionage, forgery and assisting a criminal organisation, helped migrants reach the island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Greek authorities of "criminalising rescuers".

"The court ruled that it was not competent to judge this case," defence lawyer Haris Petsikos told media outside the court.

The case was moved to an appeals court as a lawyer is among those accused, Petsikos said.

No date was given for the new trial.

Two of the defendants, Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini and German citizen Sean Binder, previously spent more than three months in police custody and face five-year jail terms if convicted.

"I feel very angry... because we have to wait years more," rescue diver Binder, 27, told reporters.

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"There's no semblance of fair trial," he added, charging that the legal limbo was blocking independent rescue efforts and costing lives at sea.

On her Instagram account, Mardini - who now lives in Berlin and was kept from attending the trial by a Greek court order - expressed frustration with the delay.

"It's frustrating that we have to wait more and redo everything we were working on," she said.

"But I'm optimistic because we are not alone and the people are fighting for us and with us."

Mardini and Binder - who were conditionally released in December 2018 and immediately left Greece - are also in line for a related felony investigation which will be tried separately and which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

The activists are on trial for their alleged affiliation with Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a non-profit search-and-rescue group that operated on Lesbos and in Greek waters from 2016 to 2018.

Greek prosecutors liken ERCI search-and-rescue operations to a smuggling crime ring and are investigating its fundraising for potential money laundering.

ERCI was registered as a non-governmental organisation and regularly cooperated with Greek authorities on rescue missions.

The arrests forced the group to cease operations, which included providing medical care and informal education to migrants and asylum seekers.

Twenty-four people have drowned so far in 2021 in the eastern Mediterranean trying to enter Europe, including four children and a woman, HRW said.