Iasonas Apostolopoulos, Witness of Defense

Finally, after 5.5 years, the first phase of the trial is over! On 30th January 2024, they were all found innocent at the Lesvos Court of Appeal!

The trial is referred to as the largest case of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe, with 37 initial defendants, 24 identified, and five people imprisoned for over three months in pretrial detention, including Sarah Mardini, Sean Binder and Nassos Karakitsos. Among the defendants are volunteers and aid workers from several different NGOs who were active on the Greek island of Lesvos in the period 2016-2018.

The trial is divided into two phases. The first phase concerned the misdemeanor charges such as espionage, forgery, illegal access to state communications and assistance to a criminal organization. The second phase refers to the felony charges (people smuggling, belonging to a criminal organization, money laundering and fraud) for which trial dates have yet to be set. The felony charges are still not concluded.

Last year, on 13th January, when the trial of the misdemeanors began, the court on Lesvos accepted the complaints filed by the lawyers and canceled the procedure due to legal errors in the indictment that violated the rights of the defendants, such as “vague charges,” and “non-translation of documents in a language the defendants could understand.”

Therefore, eight of the defendants were released, including Mardini and Binder. The rest (16 people, mostly Greek, but also international people who didn’t appear last year to file complaints and contest the procedure) were not released and were brought to Lesvos for trial this January.

The trial started on 29 January 2024. The 16 defendants faced up to eight years in prison, for the misdemeanor offenses of espionage and forgery. From the first moment, the trial proved farcical. According to the indictment, the defendants committed espionage by:

  • monitoring the Greek Coast Guard’s VHF frequencies to intercept state secrets,
  • using binoculars to scan the sea to intercept state secrets (the number and type of the Greek CG vessels and Frontex),
  • using encrypted mobile applications to share these state secrets with others.

In reality:

  • The Coast Guard radio frequencies were the open marine VHF channels CH 16 and 12! CH 16 and CH 12 are marine channels accessible to anyone for maritime and SAR purposes and they are definitely not a place where state secrets are shared! This “detail” was carefully hidden and we had to bring it up during the hearing to enlighten the court of this super obvious thing. It is our duty as rescuers and seafarers to always monitor CH16 and CH12 (the local Lesvos channel)
  • Using binoculars was and remains a standard practice when you are looking for boats in distress. The purpose of spotting was to locate boats in danger in order to mobilize the emergency response teams on land and sea and not for spying! Especially at the Lesvos context, spotting by binoculars was of crucial importance to identify and locate boats in time before they crash into the rocks.
  • The “encrypted mobile applications” is the Whatsapp group made by UNHCR itself! It consisted of more than 400 participants, NGOs, independent volunteers, including state officials! This “detail” was also carefully hidden and we had to bring it up during the hearing to “enlighten” the court.

It sounds unbelievable, but this is the truth. On these grounds, 24 people have been held hostage for six years now. Based on these ridiculous elements, civil rescuers have been put into prison and targeted as criminals.

Once again, the coast guard never appeared to support the charges, even though they were summoned.

The only witness for the prosecution in the trial was a police (!) commander of Lesvos, who in response to all the questions from the court and the lawyers kept saying, “I don’t know, I cannot recall, I don’t remember.”

There was not the slightest evidence of guilt presented and, as a result, all the defendants were unanimously acquitted with the agreement of the prosecutor.

This proves in the most glaring way that these prosecutions are political and intended to stop people saving lives at sea. The purpose of these prosecutions is not to convict. The purpose of these prosecutions is to terrorize, discredit, and erase solidarity from European borders. The purpose of these prosecutions is to intimidate and kick volunteers and aid workers off the shores of Lesvos, to get rid of witnesses, so the Greek government can seamlessly keep on doing barbaric pushbacks and actions of border brutality against the people on the move.

Unfortunately, they have succeeded. There is currently no rescue boat on the island. However, we will not leave them alone. We will stand by them until the end. This is not the end of the #FreeHumanitarians campaign, but it is the first step towards justice.

Solidarity will win!


Picture: Court of Lesvos 30 January 2024

Picture: Court of Lesvos 30 January 2024