Irish aid worker accused of spying goes on trial in Greece over refugee rescues

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Irish Aid Worker Accused Of Spying Goes On Trial In Greece Over Refugee Rescues Irish Aid Worker Accused Of Spying Goes On Trial In Greece Over Refugee Rescues
Seán Binder and Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini after their release from pre-trial detention in December 2018. Photo: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty
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By Stelios Misinas, Reuters

The trial of 24 aid workers involved in refugee rescues has begun on the Greek island of Lesbos amid calls from rights groups that authorities drop the charges of spying and disclosing state secrets.

The aid workers were affiliated with the Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), a nonprofit search-and-rescue group operating on Lesbos from 2016 to 2018. They face up to eight years in prison, convertible into a fine.

One of the group is Seán Binder, a trained maritime search and rescuer, who was born in Germany and moved to Ireland at the age of five.

He studied at Trinity College in Dublin before taking on a Masters in International Relations at the London School of Economics.

Binder was arrested in 2018 and spent 107 days in Athens' maximum security prison in pre-trial detention. He left Greece after he was released, and has returned despite his misgivings about the trial.

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Seán Binder (left) speaks with his mother before his trial in Mytilene port, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Activists linked to a migrant search-and-rescue group will be tried in court, facing espionage and other felony charges. Photo: Panagiotis Balaskas/AP via Press Association

Along with the other aid workers, Binder also faces more serious felony charges, still being investigated, of people smuggling, belonging to a criminal group and money laundering, which carry 25-year prison sentences.

The defendants deny the charges against them and are expected to plead not guilty.

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The European Parliament called it "the largest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe" in a report in June.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the trial is intended to intimidate other aid workers from carrying out their work and have called the charges "farcical" and "politically motivated."

Also among those tried is Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee who took an overcrowded dinghy to Greece with her sister Yusra in 2015, at the height of Europe's refugee crisis, and saved the other 19 passengers by pulling their sinking boat to shore for four hours.

Mardini, who now lives in Germany, is barred from entering the country as a third country national and will be represented by a lawyer.

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