Sean Binder, one of the accused, said the trial was about 'human rights' | Photo: Panagiotis Balaskas/AP/dpa/picture alliance
Sean Binder, one of the accused, said the trial was about 'human rights' | Photo: Panagiotis Balaskas/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Misdemeanor charges files filed against activists were declared invalid after the UN called for them to be dropped. But some are still facing further investigations on felony charges, including people trafficking.

A Greek court on the island of Lesbos dismissed charges on Friday against 24 migrant rescue activists following a lengthy legal battle that has been slammed by human rights groups, the EU and the UN.

The case, in which the activists were charged over their work rescuing migrants at sea and bringing them to shore, was rejected by the court on procedural grounds.

"It is a step, it is the first recognition that there were many legal mistakes that violated the essence of a fair trial,'' defense lawyer Cleo Papapantoleon said. "The decision is important for us, and we expect the same to happen with the investigation into the felonies, for which there is also no evidence.''

The court's decision on Friday came just hours after the United Nations called for the charges to be dropped. The European Parliament has previously slammed the trial as "the largest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe."

Trial widely condemned as a sham

The trial sparked outrage around the world for its criminalization of migrant rescuers, following a trend in Italy.

Among the 24 defendants is the Syrian swimmer Sarah Mardini, herself a refugee who fled the war. Netflix made a documentary about her and her family who made the Aegean crossing in 2015.

All suspects were part of the Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI). The organization helped more than 1,000 people seek safety on the island of Lesbos between 2016 and 2018.

Mardini and fellow volunteer Sean Binder were still under investigation for felony offenses but have not been charged.

"Today's decision offers the authorities a new opportunity to put an end to this ordeal and correct their own wrongdoing by dropping all of the charges, including the more serious felony charges which still await them," said Nils Muiznieks, director of Amnesty International's European Regional Office.

"We urge the Greek authorities once more to drop all of the charges and allow Sarah and Sean to go back to their lives,'' Muiznieks added.

Tens of thousands of people fleeing war, violence and poverty have entered Greece, Italy and Spain, seeking refuge in the EU.

Greece's conservative government, in power since 2019, has vowed to make Greece an unattractive destination for all types of migrants.

lo,ab/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

First published: January 13, 2023

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