Begüm Başdaş talked with Amnesty International’s European Migration Researcher Adriana Tidona about the criminalisation of humanitarian work in solidarity with refugees in Europe, focusing on the court case against 24 humanitarian workers, including search and rescue volunteers Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder.
Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder were arrested in 2018 on numerous trumped-up charges by Greek authorities and they spent more than 100 days in prison before being released on bail in December 2018. The first trial of the 24 humanitarian workers, who risk 25 years in prison for helping and defending the rights of refugees in Greece was held on 18 November. However, the court decided to adjourn the case. Adriana Tidona was on the Lesvos Island to monitor the trial.
For the day of the trial, Tidona said “it was very good to see a lot of support for Sarah and Sean. There was a great spirit of solidarity and a lot of media interest.” She commented that, “This trial should not ever have happened. The charges are unfounded, but now it is brought to court, they at least should be acquitted so Sarah and Sean can resume their lives. More delays means more uncertainty.”
She said that the court’s decision to adjourn means that the trial would be postponed possibly for months, prolonging the judicial ordeal for the humanitarian workers. Due to restrictions to her entry to Greece, Sarah Mardini could not attend in violation of her right to fair trial. Tidona commented on the judicial process and said, “It does not only mean being criminalised, but it also means being put on hold and unable to operate for years. This is in itself a violation of the rights of human rights defenders. It is not just when you are convicted that you are being criminalized, the prosecution is a violation of their rights. They only acted for humanitarian reasons. They should not go through all of this.
Adjournment of the court has serious implications for everyone who stands in solidarity with refugees and migrants in Greece, and Tidona noted that, “This trial is an emblematic one. It does not have impact on Sarah, Sean and others only, but it is also instrumentalised by Greece to send a powerful message to civil society as a whole, that this is what can happen if you provide help to people seeking safety. Greece continues to bring charges and other actions against NGOs, who are depicted in a very negative light in the public discourse. Even in non-criminal cases, for example administratively, NGOs are imposed to very heavy burdens to be able to operate. In practice, even if they are not criminalized, they are paralyzed. They cannot operate freely.”
To learn more about criminalization of solidarity with refugees in Europe, you may read Amnesty International report, “Europe: Punishing compassion: Solidarity on trial in Fortress Europe.”