The trial of a Syrian refugee and famed competitive swimmer is set to open up in Greece, as Athens continues to accuse her and other humanitarian volunteers of human smuggling.
Sarah Mardini, a swimmer and prominent human rights worker who inspired the Netflix film "The Swimmers", fled war-torn Syria with her sister, Yusra Mardini, during the exodus of Syrians to neighbouring countries and Europe.
During their tumultuous journey, they swam for their lives after jumping off an inflatable boat filled with water, while carrying refugees to Greece.
While Yusra ended up competing in the refugee swimming team at the Olympic Games in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and in Japan's Tokyo in 2021, Sarah has been awaiting trial at the hands of Greek authorities as one of 24 aid workers and volunteers on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Sarah and the other volunteers had initially been detained in 2018 for several months on suspicion of human trafficking, as well as a number of other charges including espionage, illegal access to state communications, money laundering and assisting criminal activity.
Yusra Mardini: The Syrian Olympic athlete who swam for three hours to save lives
In 2018, Greek police had accused the volunteers of collecting information about refugee flows from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos, and of having provided direct assistance to organised trafficking groups.
They all deny those charges and insist they only tried to help people whose lives were in danger. Their trial – the case of which was denounced in a European Parliament report as Europe's "largest case of criminalisation of solidarity" – opened on Tuesday, but was adjourned for tomorrow.
An Irish volunteer named Sean Binder, who spent over three months in jail in Lesbos following his arrest in 2018, told reporters outside the court on Tuesday that "What's on trial today is human rights. That is the fundamental problem."
Stressing that the group was "desperate" to go on trial because what they did was "legal", he said that "We need the judge to acknowledge that we need to get through this because until then, there is a shadow of a doubt, not over me alone, but over anybody who does search and rescue."