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Greece: 'farcical trial' of search and rescue volunteers opens

Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini are facing a potential 25 years in jail for their work as search and rescue volunteers [Private via Amnesty International]
Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini are facing a potential 25 years in jail for their work as search and rescue volunteers [Private via Amnesty International]

The trial of two search and rescue volunteers opened in Greece today, with the pair facing up to 25 years in jail. Amnesty International has described the proceedings as "farcical". The two are among a total of 24 aid workers facing similar charges in the trial.

Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini, 25, and 27-year-old Seán Binder from Ireland face "unfair and baseless" charges of money laundering, smuggling, espionage, unlawful use of radio frequencies and fraud. Both were arrested in 2018 and held for over 100 days by the Greek authorities before being released on bail in December the same year. Due to a travel ban, Mardini will not be able to attend her own trial.

"Sarah and Seán did lifesaving humanitarian work, spotting boats in distress off Greek shores and providing those on board with blankets, water and a warm welcome. The charges they face are farcical and should never have come to trial," said Nils Muižnieks, the Director of Amnesty International's European Regional Office. "This emblematic case demonstrates how far the Greek authorities will go to deter people from helping refugees and migrants. Stopping rescue operations doesn't stop people from making dangerous journeys, it simply makes those journeys more perilous."

Binder pointed out that the law obliges everyone to help people in distress at sea. "What we did was not heroic, it was normal, and anyone else would do the same in our place. The real victims of European migration policies are the refugees and migrants forced to risk their lives to reach 'Fortress Europe'."

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According to Mardini it is "frustrating" to have to wait and redo everything that they were working on. "But I'm optimistic because we are not alone and the people are fighting for us and with us."

Lawyer Haris Petsikos, acting for Mardini, pointed out the injustice of her being banned from entering Greece to face the judge and jury in person. "For Sarah Mardini, we have the big issue that the Greek state doesn't allow her to enter Greece, but on the other hand, we have the prosecutor and the court pending against her," he said. "It is totally not understandable. The Greek justice system is calling her as an accused person in order to hear her in the court, and her entrance to Greece is denied."

Sarah Mardini arrived in Greece in 2015. After the engine of the boat she was on failed, she and her sister Yusra jumped into the water, and dragged the flailing vessel to the safety of Lesvos, saving the lives of the 18 people on board. Both sisters are Olympic swimmers who competed in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics as members of the refugee team. Sarah later returned to Greece to volunteer with search and rescue, where she met Seán Binder, a trained diver.

Sisters Sarah and Yusra Mardini together on a beach. Both sisters are champion swimmers who competed in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics on the refugee swimming team [Lisa Knauer via Amnesty International]

The BBC confirmed this afternoon that the trial was adjourned shortly after it opened when the judge ruled that the court was not competent to hear the case.

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