Human rights defenders on trial in Greece

Tomorrow, 10 January 2023, the trial of human rights defenders Sarah Mardini, Seán Binder, Nassos Karakitos and 21 others will begin on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Sarah, Sean and Nassos were arrested in August 2018 and detained for over three months on multiple charges linked to their volunteer work with Emergency Response Center International (ECRI), a now-closed NGO then registered in Greece.

Three and a half years later, their fate on the misdemeanor offences of which they are accused, which include espionage and forgery, is set to finally be decided. They risk eight years in prison if convicted, with the investigation into further charges of facilitating illegal immigration and participation in a criminal organisation still to be completed.

In November 2021, I stated that a guilty verdict in the case would set a dangerous precedent, making criminals of those working to see the rights of migrants and refugees in Greece and across the EU fulfilled and respected. In the same month, several other Special Rapporteurs and I wrote to the Greek Government to express our concerns in relation to the case, including on alleged procedural irregularities undermining the defendants right to a fair trial. The Government replied the following month, however, they information provided failed to assuage my worry.

My concerns were compounded by accounts I received during my country visit to Greece in June 2022 detailing how fear of criminalisation has spread among human rights defenders working in the field of migration in the country. As I underlined in my preliminary observations following the visit, solidarity should never be punished and compassion should never be put on trial.

I will be following the proceedings beginning tomorrow closely and hope for a full acquittal that will recognise the legitimacy and importance of the defendants’ human rights work.

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