Over the last 5 years, more than 250 individuals have been put on trial in Europe for their solidarity – they helped people on the move to arrive in cities, handed out food in the cold, saved lives at sea. Some of them, like Captain Carola Rackete or the mayor of Riace, Mimmo Lucano, became famous for their actions.
But this should not be about us – privileged Europeans. By far, most people arrested on charges of “aiding unauthorized immigration” are people on the move themselves. Their crime? Leaving their home in search of a safe place – for themselves, their families, friends and fellows. Their charges are the same as ours. Only, they face lifelong prison sentences and detention, they do not have a lobby and barely any elementary legal protection. Most are on their own as family and friends are either far away or are being deprived of their rights themselves and thus unable to support.”We need to talk about Hamza Haddi and Mohamed Haddar, Nour Al-Sameh and all the others whose names we do not know to end this injustice.
On the 24th of December 2021, a boat set off from the Turkish coast heading to Italy in an attempt to bypass Greece, infamous for its systematic and violent push-backs. On board were more than 80 people, desperate to leave Syria and Turkey. Among them, three fathers, Abdallah J., Kheiraldin A. and Mohamad B., unable to pay for the particularly expensive trip, agreed to pilot the boat.
Along the journey, close to the Greek island of Paros, the boat capsized, leading to the death of 18 people. After the rescue, Kheiraldin, Abdallah and Mohamad were arrested. They were accused of their own unauthorised entry and those of others, with the aggravating circumstances of endangering their lives and causing the death of 18 persons.
In May 2022, the trial took place on the Greek island of Syros. Although both the prosecution and the judges acknowledged that the three defendants were not the smugglers or had acted for profit, nor were they to blame for the 18 deaths, the three fathers were convicted of “facilitating unauthorised entry”, resulting in a sentence of 187 years for Kheiraldin, the “captain”, and 126 years for each of the two “assistants”. The lawyers have appealed the decision.
In December 2020, Mohamad H., who had fled from war in Somalia to Turkey, tried to reach Greece on a rubber boat together with 33 other people. In the Aegean sea, the boat got into distress and eventually capsized close to the island of Lesbos.
All the people were rescued by the Greek coast guard and brought to Mytilene port, Lesbos. There, Mohamad was arrested for “driving the boat” and consequently charged with the “illegal transportation of third-country nationals” (smuggling), with the aggravating circumstances of endangering the life of 32 people and causing the death of two.
On May 13 2021, the trial started. Mohamad explained that he neither knew how to drive a boat nor did he want to and that he only took the wheel to save his co-passengers from drowning. He did this without knowing that simply steering a wheel is considered a crime under Greek law. Eventually, was sentenced to 142 years in prison. The lawyers filed an appeal.
Amir & Akif
Amir and Akif, tried to reach Greece on a rubber boat in March 2020. Amongst the other people on the boat, were also Amir’s pregnant wife and child. As they entered Greek waters, they were attacked by the Hellenic coast guard, who tried to push them back to Turkey using metal poles. In doing so, they punctured the boat, putting the life of the people at risk. The coast guard had to take them on board, where Amir and Akif were heavily beated up, as accused of being the smugglers.
On Lesbos, they were arrested and charged with their own entry, facilitating the unauthorized entry of others and with provoking a shipwreck. They were held since then in pre-trial detention and in September 2020 sentenced to 50 years in prison, although there is no evidence except for the coast guards’ statement.
The Appeal Trial had place on 8 December 2022 in Mytilini, Greece. At the end the three judge Appeal Court acquitted Akif, but found Amir guilty of “boat driving” and sentenced him to 8 years in prison. Compared to the first instance decision, his sentence was substantially reduced, which means that he is eligible for early release on parole.
K. S. fled with his family from Syria to Turkey. There, he refused to participate in the Turkish military operations and subsequently imprisoned and tortured. He managed to flee with his wife and three children. When the family, together with other people, reached the Greek island of Chios, K.S. was falsely accused of driving the boat. He was charged not only with “unauthorized entry” but also with “facilitating unauthorized entry”, “provoking a shipwreck” and “disobedience”.
After more than a year of pre-trial detention and after the trial had been postponed at short notice, on 23 April 2021, K.S. was sentenced in a few hours for “unauthorized entry” and “facilitating unauthorized entry” to 52 years imprisonment. In addition, the court fined him 242,000 euros. This high sentence was imposed even though he was acquitted of the other charges.
His lawyers appealed immediately after the verdict. Until then, K.S. must spend the time until the appeal hearing in prison on the Greek mainland.
Together with 22 other people, N. and Hasan had tried to reach Greece on a rubber boat. Hasan was traveling with his siblings and his disabled mother, N. with his 6-year-old child. None of them had any experience in seafaring. Hasan took over the steering wheel after the smuggler left the boat. Near Samos, the boat hit the cliffs and all the passengers went overboard. N.’s son did not survive.N. is the first asylum seeker ever to be charged with “endangering the life of his child”; he faces up to ten years in prison. Hasan, because he steered the boat, is charged with “smuggling”, with the aggravating circumstances of “endangering the lives of 23 people” and “causing the death of one person” – N.’s son. He faces 230 years plus life imprisonment. This is a common practice of criminalization at the EU’s external borders.
On May 18 2022, the Samos’ court pronounced an exceptional verdict in the case of Hasan and N., the #Samos2 are “free”. N. was acquitted of all charges, while Hasan was convicted to 1,5 years on probation.
We were part of the campaign “The real crime is the border regime – Freedom for the #Samos2”, which has been formed to support them. Visit the campaign site freethesamostwo.com for more information.
El Hiblu 3
The crew of the oil tanker El Hiblu is alerted of more than 100 people in distress at sea in March 2019. Once recovered safely and embarked onto the huge vessel, panic arises among the rescuees when they realize the Captain is steering towards Libya. Some threaten to jump overboard in desperate attempts to avoid being taken back to the war torn country they had just escaped from. The crew of the vessel eventually changes course North, complying with international law by bringing the people to a safe port.
Upon reaching Maltese territorial waters, the El Hiblu is stormed by a Special Operations Unit of the Armed Forces of Malta. In the port, three minors aged 15, 16 and 19 at the time, are arrested and charged with several major crimes, including terrorism. After months in prison, a judge agrees to the appeal for a release on bail of the traumatised teenagers. They still risk heavy sentences – for insisting on the right to have rights.
We support the “Stiftungsfonds Zivile Seenotrettung” that is paying legal costs for the El Hiblu 3. For more info visit: https://elhiblu3.info/
“Every day in jail is one day too much. We stand in solidarity with all those arrested under false pretext on Europe’s borders. Migration is not a crime!”
Sarah & Seán
After 100 days in Greek detention, they are finally free on bail: Syrian rescue swimmer Sarah Mardini and German rescue diver Seán Binder were arrested in the summer of 2018 after they helped to spot refugee boats in distress on the Greek island of Lesvos. They still face 25 years in jail. There is no evidence for any wrongdoing of volunteers like Sarah, Seán or their companion Nassos. Yet, this is not a guarantee of justice.
Human rights organisations like Amnesty criticise the authorities for strategically using legal prosecution to stop NGOs from operating on the islands. This needs to stop.
The trial will start again on 10 January 2023.
Nour is in his mid-twenties when Greek authorities destroy the last glimpse of hope for a life in safety. He studied economics in Syria with no intention to leave, until the war ravaged his hometown. Like hundreds of thousands, he escaped, just to find terrible conditions in Turkey. When he reaches Greek waters on July 29, 2015, the small boat he and others are on is suddenly intercepted by armed forces and brought to the island of Periya, where Nour is reportedly handcuffed, blindfolded and beaten up.
After being rescued, N. was arrested. He is accused of ‘human smuggling and aiding illegal immigration’, sentenced to 315 years and heavy fines. That’s right, 315 years in prison for trying to reach Europe alive. Why? Because Nour speaks English and when the boat got in distress, it was Nour who called for help. In the eyes of the Greek law, this makes him a smuggler. The fact that in turn he got a cheaper fare for his own flight makes him a smuggler acting out of financial interest. In Greek law, that translates into 10+ years for each person that was on the boat.
With no help but from the lawyer that was assigend to him by the court, Nour was sentenced in June 2016 to 315 years. For the past six years, him and his friends fought their way through various levels of the Greek justice system up to the Supreme Court. On the 5th of October 2021, the final trial took place and indeed his sentence was reduced in such a way that after six years Nour was released!
Hamza & Mohamed
Meet Hamza and Mohamed, two young Moroccans who left their country searching for protection and better living conditions. Together with two other people, they reached Europe via the Evros River on a tiny makeshift boat. Barely had they set a foot on Greek shores, as policemen arrested them and accused Hamza and Mohamed of aiding the illegal immigration of the two other people on the boat – one of them being Hamza’s own brother.
On February 4, 2020 – after more than 7 month in pretrial detention – Hamza Haddi and Mohamed Haddar were each sentenced to 4 years in prison. Their lawyer has filed an appeal.
Just like Nour’s, the case of Hamza and Mohamed is not an isolated one but paradigmatic for Europe’s ruthless border regime. With a sentence of 4 years, they absurdly belong to the more ‘fortunate ones’. Critical observers have found that the average trial of this kind in Greece lasts only around 30 minutes, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines of more than 370,000 Euro. Unlike the big majority, Hamza and Mohamed could count on a support structure. Hamza is a Moroccan political activist who was targeted by the government since the Arab Spring. Pressure from media attention, a proper defense, independent observers and our common statement before the hearing has helped to keep the charges at a minimum. Additional charges of financial benefit and organized crime were eventually dropped.
In the appeal trial on September 1st 2021 in Komotini, Greece, they were acquitted of the charge of smuggling and “only” sentenced to “aiding and abetting the illegal entry” of two more people. The sentence of 4 years and 1 month in prison was reduced to 3 years and suspended on probation. Hamza & Mohamed are finally free!
The brutality of the border regime takes many forms. 12,000 people are being deported each year from the UK alone. To stop a charter flight scheduled for deportation, a group of 15 activists cut through a fence at Essex airport in March 2017. 57 people were supposed to transfered from Britain to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. After the incident, 11 people were granted the right to remain in the UK, a success that shed light on the injustices of the asylum system.
The group received an initial charge of “aggravated trespass”; a minor pubic order offence. In July 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service changed the conviciton and charged them with “endangering safety at a public airport”, a terror related offence established in 1990s. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
In December 2018, the Stansted15 were convicted under terror-related charges. During February 2019, they received suspended sentences or community orders after the presiding judge decided not to imprison them stating he believed the group had been motivated by “genuine reasons”.
They appealed the decision and more than two years later, on 29 January 2021, the Court of Appeal ruled the sentences null and void. All 15 were acquitted.
An interesting and important self-reflection of the group about the trial’s impact can be read here: https://novaramedia.com/2021/02/04/the-stansted-15-have-won-what-can-we-learn-from-their-four-year-legal-battle/
In February 2018, Anni Lanz, 73-year-old pensioner from Basel, gave a lift to an Afghan man who was sleeping outside a train station in freezing conditions in Italy, near the Swiss border, and brought him back to Switzerland. She had originally met the man in a removal centre in Basel. He was suffering from serious psychological problems following the reported death of his wife and child and was desperate to stay with his sister there. Despite medical reports, Swiss authorities returned him to Italy.
After hearing that he was sleeping in freezing cold, Anni went to pick him up. She was then charged with facilitation of unauthorized entry, fined and convicted with an immediate criminal order in March 2018. After the rejection of both the first and second appeals, which upheld the conviction, the case went to the Federal Court which, in August 2020, again confirmed the decision.
Anni was convicted as hundreds of people acting in solidarity with people on the move and who try to oppose the racist european border regime.
“It’s not the mountains that kill, but the borders.”
Blessing, a young Nigerian woman, drowned in a river in the Alps when she tried to escape from a police raid in 2018. Her life is not the only one lost on the border between Italy and France. Over the years, many people on the move have died in the mountains, especially in winter months. Yet, collective action and concrete acts of solidarity have been increasingly criminalized. Our friends from Briançon stand accused for protesting the militarisation of the borders. They faced sentences of up to 10 years in prison and a 750,000 Euro fine per person. In 2018, The Briançon7 were found guilty and sentenced to six months and two to twelve months in prison.
This is a political trial: Because of a spontaneous demonstration against the right wing “Defend Europe Alp Mission”, members of the group were convicted – the Prosecutor’s office thus decided to bring charges against pacifist activists while leaving way to far-right groups campaigning against principles like Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
On the 25th May 2021, their appeal trial took place in Grenoble. In September of the same year, the Grenoble Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the criminal court of Gap (Hautes-Alpes): all of the Briancon7 were acquitted!