A trial against 24 people threatens the entire system of international law
On Thursday (18 November 2021) the trial will begin against Sean Binder, Sarah Mardini, Nassos Karakitsos and 21 other men and women.
We have noted and posted about this upcoming case on a number of occasions, and today we are joining 49 other organisations to call for justice for humanitarian workers such as Seán, Sarah, Nassos and the 21 others who face 25 years in prison for saving lives at sea.
Sarah, Seán and Nassos were volunteers doing search and rescue on the island of Lesvos in 2017. They helped thousands of asylum seekers fleeing conflict and looking to rebuild their lives in Europe.
Legal experts have concluded that what Sarah, Seán and Nassos did was both morally and legally necessary.
@humanrightswatch said their prosecution is the criminalisation of saving lives.
Humanitarianism is not a crime.
Help us fight this trial. Help us #FreeHumanitarians
Some of you may know a little about this case already. Certainly, some of you may recognise the name of Sarah Mardini, about whom a film is set to be released next year.
But whether you know a little, a lot, or nothing at all about this case, it is worth making note of a couple of things.
Sarah, Sean, Nassos and the 21 other men and women face charges which include espionage, money laundering, people smuggling and belonging to a criminal organisation.
In fact, they were volunteers, working for the aid organisation Emergency Response Centre International, saving lives by pulling men, women and children from the sea as they approached Lesvos.
The charges against them are ridiculous, and entirely circular in nature – the money-laundering claim, for example, is based on the fact that they raised money to feed and clothe themselves and the people they saved from death, while working for ERCI. The only way one could consider that in any way illegal is if ERCI itself were a criminal organisation which is another of the charges.
ERCI is demonstrably not a criminal organisation, but an organisation which not only saved and saves lives, but does so under the exact circumstances set out in international law. That criminal claim relies solely on the claim that ERCI was engaged in people smuggling – yet another of the charges against these young volunteer lifesavers – on the grounds that by pulling people from the water ERCI assisted their journey to Lesvos. It’s a preposterous idea.
The Greek authorities claim that Sean, Sarah, Nikos and the others carried out ‘espionage’ by ‘monitoring the radio communications and positions of vessels belonging to the Greek coastguard’ to ‘gain advance notification of the location of smugglers’ boats’. There is absolutely no evidence that any of the 24 people accused actually did this. In fact, in several of the incidents, many of the accused named as having taken part in rescues have demonstrated that they were not in fact even in Greece.
But even if any of them had, even once, done this, to characterise that as ‘espionage’, a crime associated with stealing state secrets to reduce security or endanger a nation and its people, is beyond the realms of realism.
Despite their ludicrous nature, however – and Amnesty correctly describes them as ‘farcical’ – there is nothing ‘amusing’ about these charges. Should the 24 be found guilty, the penalty will be up to 25 years in jail: a life sentence, for literally saving lives.
And although it is seldom mentioned, the case will be a vanguard for similar efforts across Europe and the world to criminalise saving lives – not least, in Greece itself, where a further ten individuals and organisations are currently ‘under investigation’ on identical charges: their crime? Reporting on the illegal pushbacks of more than 21,000 men, women and children since 1 March 2020 (the fact that these charges are identical is in itself slightly strange…).
The characters of the 24 people are not, and should not be, important. The fact that they are innocent of these charges, and that the charges are utterly ludicrous, is the sole factor that we and the court should consider.
But we might mention Sarah Mardini.
Because Sarah, now 26 years old, fled Syria with her sister Yusra in 2015.
When the boat they were in ran into difficulties off the coast of Lesvos, she and Yusra jumped into the sea and swam for three and a half hours to stop the boat capsizing and pushing it ashore, saving the lives of the 18 others aboard the boat. If we were feeling grimly ironic enough, we may well ask why Sarah is not also on trial for this example of ‘smuggling’…
Yusra has gone on to represent the Refugee swimming team at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, while Sarah returned to Lesvos to continue saving lives. The sisters are the subject of a film, The Swimmers, documenting their heroic actions, which is set for Netflix release next year.
Despite this, Sarah – like Sean, Nassos and the 21 others – was jailed for 107 days without charge, released only on a bail of €5,000, and unlike the others, has been banned from travelling to Greece.
That is, Sarah Mardini, a 26 year-old humanitarian, who has saved the lives of men, women and children at sea, and whose work is considered so inspiring that an actual film is being released about it – will be unable even to attend her own trial.
Now. On Thursday, when the first ‘misdemeanour’ charges are heard, the case should be laughed out of court. If it is not, it should be taken to the European Courts and then the International Courts, where anyone with any sense will immediately find all 24 not guilty.
But make no mistake. These charges have been made in all seriousness by the Greek government, in a genuine effort to criminalise life-saving, or at the very least – at least seemingly – to terrify people who save lives, monitor illegal activity, or promote even the most basic adherence to international law, in order to stop them from continuing to do so.
This is not ‘only’ about 24 innocent young men and women – though that in itself should be enough for us all to stand and be counted. It is about governments attempting to undermine international law and prevent people reporting on illegal acts, and even saving lives.
Thursday is the first day of a trial which is vital to the lives of 24 innocent people.
It is also the first day of a trial which is vital to the entire international legal system, and the lives of every man, woman and child who might ever need to risk their lives to escape certain death.
This is why we have added our signature to the letter, which you can view at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6147a2967225635f6a0f7f72/t/618eb0624486882dbfcc693c/1636741218219/Free+Humanitarians+Open+Letter+.pdf
If you want to help, you can do so at the Free Humanitarians link above, or by visiting https://www.change.org/p/greek-minister-for-justice-dropthecharges-free-humanitarians