Seán Binder, alongside 22 other humanitarians, faces criminal charges related to his life-saving work helping to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean. Declan Owens argues that Greece is attempting to criminalise solidarity.
In 2017 and 2018, Seán Binder, a 27-year-old Irish citizen, worked with the humanitarian organisation Emergency Response Centre International on the Greek island of Lesvos to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean.
Along with other 22 other humanitarians, including a Syrian refugee now based in Germany, Sarah Mardini, he faces criminal charges related to their lifesaving humanitarian work. Seán and Sarah face trial on four charges classified as “misdemeanours”: espionage; disclosure of state secrets; unlawful use of radio frequencies; and forgery.
In what can only be described as a political prosecution, Seán and Sarah were held in pre-trial detention for 107 days in 2018 while authorities investigated the “misdemeanours” and possible felony charges: facilitation of illegal entry; money laundering; and fraud.
If convicted on all misdemeanour and felony charges, they could face up to 25 years in prison.
The investigation continues and the two have not been formally indicted with any felonies. All charges are denied. On 18 November 2021, the trial was adjourned following an unconscionable 3-year ‘investigation’ and it was unclear when the trial would resume.
“If they are found guilty it could amount to criminalisation of search and rescue work,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders. She said that “A guilty verdict for Ms. Mardini and Mr. Binder would be a dark day for Greece, and a dark day for human rights in Europe.”
Her call for the charges to be dropped was endorsed by Ms. Siobhán Mullaly, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, and Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. Questions have been asked in Dáil Éireann about the case with Paul Murphy, TD for Dublin South-West, tweeting: “Saving lives is not a crime!”
Seán is a law student and member of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. We have offered Sean our full solidarity and have arranged with comrades in Greece and Turkey for legal observers to attend trial. We are under no doubt that the Greek state is seeking to produce a chilling effect on the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean by seeking to criminalise solidarity.
This was a theme in Haldane’s 2020 conference, ‘Hostile Environments’ where Seán outlined his experience. These attempts to criminalise solidarity have been exemplified by the approach of Fortress EU to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and of Fortress Britain towards migrants. In the latter case, the Tories have created what is proudly termed a ‘Hostile Environment’, the effects of which were on horrific display with the recent tragedy of over thirty people dying as they tried to cross the Channel from France to England. Haldane has long opposed these policies, as well as similar ones brought in by New Labour before them.
There is no doubt that the Greek Government are condemning further migrants to ‘death sentences’ in a situation where we anticipate many more climate migrants in the years to come due to the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. Indeed, this was a theme which we explored in our conference, as migrants can leave a hostile physical ‘environment’ in their homeland, only to face a hostile psychological ‘environment’ in their host country in what is meant to be a place of refuge. We feel that the issue of climate migration will only become a more common issue for our members and allied campaigns to engage with as we continue to show solidarity with migrants and refugees.
In the meantime, we will continue to support Seán Binder and other human rights defenders. As Seán rightly said before the hearing:
“I feel angry that the legal requirement to help people in distress at sea is being criminalised right now. I’m angry because there is not a shred of evidence against us. … I’m angry because we’ve had to wait three years now for this prosecution to take place and it’s very likely that the prosecution will not continue because the indictment is so poorly constructed.”
We also condemn the fact that the Greek court last week refused Ms. Mardini’s lawyer’s appeal to allow her to travel to Greece as an affront to the right to a fair trial.
The adjournment of this trial will exacerbate the stress for Seán and his fellow defendants in this Kafkaesque trial. We call upon the Greek authorities to drop all charges against all the defendants immediately.
We will continue to resist with human rights groups and campaigners the securitisation of borders, pushbacks and collective expulsion in Fortress EU and Fortress Britain, echoing the solidarity calls that ‘Refugees are welcome’ and ‘No-one is illegal’.
Declan Owens is a lawyer with the Ecojustice Legal Action Centre and Co-chair of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.