Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Lesbos, Greece – If there’s one thing that did not take three months in a Greek prison cell from Seán Binder, it is his sense of humor.

He kept a plastic two-euro coin of his time in jail, which he manufactured with a friendly smile.

“I can buy exactly two spinach pies the moment I go back to jail – and spinach pies may be my favorite thing from Greece,” jokes the 27-year-old, who is studying law in London.

Unlike other students his age, Binder is a German citizen who was raised in Ireland. face charges in Greece of people smuggling, being part of a criminal organization, espionage and money laundering related to his time working with refugees on the island of Lesbos, all of which could impose a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

Binder is in 2018 with Sarah Mardini, 26, who arrived in Lesbos in 2015 as a Syrian refugee and returned to volunteer, in one case declared rights groups “unfounded”.

The two spent more than 100 days in pre-trial detention in Greece. “One hundred and six”, to be exact, says Binder as he sits in a cafe in a Lesbos harbor.

In the distance is a new refugee camp, built in the aftermath of the fire that leveled the infamous Moria camp last year.

The island’s geographical position as an external European border was why Binder, a certified rescue diver, traveled to Lesbos.

“It seemed as if a German or an Irishman, what happens at our borders, is related to me and it happens in my name. “I therefore have some reason and responsibility to be involved in a response to the loss of life at sea,” he said.

Trial postponed

Last Thursday, Binder was sitting in a courthouse in Lesbos when the long-awaited trial against him began. It was later adjourned and will be moved to a higher court at a later date; the Lesbos court ruled he did not have jurisdiction because one defendant is a Greek lawyer.

Reporters were barred from entering the courthouse. The reason given by officials was “COVID, referring to physical distancing measures.

Three years have passed since Binder was last on the island.

After the postponement, defendants and their families cried and hugged each other.

Binder said the wait was “super expensive” and had an impact on his emotional well-being and professional life, but he kept his eyes clean. According to him and many observers, it is used by Greece as an example.

“That’s the cold factor itself,” he said of the ongoing delays for the trial. “And the limbo is preventing others from participating in the necessary and legally required search and rescue.”

Binder was arrested in August 2018 along with Mardini, who was leaving the island at the time to resume her studies in Berlin.

Mardini, a Syrian rival swimmer who was once considered a hero because he rescued refugees at risk at sea, is now banned from entering Greece and living in Germany, where she has asylum.

“Sarah and I were handcuffed together at that moment and taken to court where these very heinous crimes were served against us,” Binder said.

When he talks about his time in prison in the eastern Aegean, his voice diminishes and his loving smile disappears.

“It’s awful,” he said.

“You are allegedly innocent until proven guilty, but what it means in practice is that I was handcuffed to a guy who killed two people. I was in a cell with 17 convicted criminals. “

Binder, Mardini and Nassos Karakitsos (40), another member of the ERCI (Emergency Response Center International) NGO for which the trio worked, were finally released in early December 2018.

“We were so lucky to have so much public support,” Binder said, acknowledging public outrage as part of the reason they were released.

‘No evidence of offense’

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) are among the high-profile organizations calling for the charges to be dropped.

HRW says the 86-page police investigation file contained “blatant factual errors”, including allegations that some of the accused participated in rescue missions on various dates when they were not in Greece.

Greek authorities claim that the activists monitored the Greek Coast Guard radio channels and used a Jeep with fake military plates – but the accused’s lawyers pointed out inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

The charges for espionage relate to the defendants communicating on an “encrypted messaging service”: the popular communication application, WhatsApp.

Despite the stubbornness of the Greek authorities in pursuing the case, it is clear that the defendants have large pockets of support across Europe. Demonstrations in solidarity took place from Athens to Brussels last week and an open letter, signed by more than 70 MEPs, was sent to the European Commission.

“The only way justice can be served is to drop the charges,” said Irish MEP Grace O’Sullivan, who led the campaign in the European Parliament.

Binder is outraged and particularly angry that Mardini is still being banned from entering Greece to attend her own trial as a “threat to national security”.

“I face the verbal charges. How can I not be a threat to national security? ” he asked. “It’s because she’s Syrian.”

Before leaving the interview, he wants to emphasize a point about the criminalization of humanitarian persons in Europe.

“I think the most shocking thing about what our trial represents is not so much about me as an individual or us as a group, but rather the risk for all of us, for anyone,” he said.

“When you step back and realize there is no evidence of transgression – the obvious implication is that it can happen to anyone who does the right thing.”

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