Press release of the initiatives “You Can`t Evict Solidarity”, CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity and borderline-europe, 20.04.2021
Flight is not a crime: Imminent sentencing of a Syrian refugee to decades in prison after trial on Lesbos +++ The initiatives “You Can`t Evict Solidarity”, CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity and borderline-europe demand the acquittal and immediate release of the defendant
Tomorrow, Wednesday 21 April 2021, the trial of K.S., a young man who fled Syria, will take place in Mytilini on the Greek island of Lesvos. He is accused of “facilitating illegal entry” (smuggling), “illegal entry” and “provoking a shipwreck” (endangering human life). If convicted, he faces several decades in prison. The initiatives You Can‘t Evict Solidarity, CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity and borderline-europe demand the acquittal and immediate release of the accused man.
The accused K.S. fled with his family from the civil war in Syria to Turkey. There he refused to join the Turkish military operation in the civil war in Libya, and as a result was imprisoned and tortured. He managed to flee with his wife and three children (four, six and seven years old) all the way to Europe. When the family reached the Greek island of Chios in early March 2020, they were denied the right to asylum for one month, like all people arriving in Greece at that time. The Greek state had unlawfully suspended the right to asylum as part of a political dispute between Turkey and the EU, and systematically brought criminal charges of “illegal entry” against migrants seeking protection in Europe.
In addition, upon arrival, K.S. was falsely accused of driving the boat in which he arrived with his family on Chios. He is now charged not only with “illegal entry” but also, more seriously, with “facilitating illegal entry” (human smuggling) and “provoking a shipwreck” (endangering life).
The filing of such charges against migrants arriving on the Greek islands, allegedly identified as boat drivers, has been systematically used by the Greek state for several years. It is based on the absurd notion that anyone who drives a dinghy carrying people seeking protection is a smuggler. Often the accused are seeking protection themselves and have been coerced into driving the boat. In practice, the prosecution of “smugglers” means that somebody from an arriving rubber dinghy is accused of driving the boat whether they did so or not. Without sufficient evidence, they are usually arrested upon arrival and kept in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, their trials average only 38 minutes in length, and they are sentenced to heavy prison terms, in some cases over 100 years in prison with very high fines. For the combination of charges K.S. faces, the average sentence is 93 years.
In the view of independent trial observers, these trials are not conducted fairly and according to the rule of law. There are hundreds of known cases of people being held in Greek prisons on these charges, as a report by CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe and Deportation Monitoring Aegean shows (1). Most recently, the two refugees Amir and Razouli were sentenced to 50 years imprisonment in such a trial last year and are now waiting in Chios prison for their appeal date in March 2022 (2).
The accused, K.S., has now been in pre-trial detention for over a year in Korydallos prison in mainland Greece. He will see his children and wife, who live in a camp near Athens, for the first time at the trial. His wife will testify and confirm that he was not driving the boat. In addition, a witness who is a researcher in anthropology from the University of the Aegean, and from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) – Aegean Migrant Solidarity will give expert testimony about the political context in which K.S. crossed to Greece from Turkey. He will be represented by lawyers from the Legal Center Lesvos.
The initiatives You Can‘t Evict Solidarity, CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity and borderline-europe will accompany the trial in solidarity. They call on Greece and the European Union to immediately end the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants accused of smuggling and for the acquittal and immediate release of the defendant.
Johannes Körner: firstname.lastname@example.org