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.
Free the #Pylos 9
In June 2023, the fishing boat “Adriana” sank off the Greek coast of Pylos, where more than 600 people died in what became one of the deadliest shipwrecks of the last decade. Boarding approx. 750 people, the boat left the coast of Libya in the attempt to reach the EU.
The boat in distress had been located by the Hellenic Coast Guard and Frontex in the Greek SAR zone. Despite that, not only they did not directly attempt its rescue but they even obstructed other potential ones, while actively putting people in danger. Other EU authorities were also informed but did not intervene.
Although clear evidences of the Hellenic Coast Guard’s responsibility for the shipwreck, 9 survivors were arrested and charged with facilitating unauthorised entry (“smuggling”), membership in a criminal organisation, and causing the shipwreck.
Those responsible for this tragedy are neither the people looking for safety nor the smuggling networks, as they are a symptom and not the root of the problem. The real culprit is Fortress Europe and the lack of freedom of movement.
Please support the #Pylos9 in the fight for justice and donate to cover legal fees, translation and counter investigations.
Donate to this account:
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or through this platform: https://whydonate.com/en/fundraising/freedom-for-the-pylos-9-campaign
Read the full statement here!
Freedom for the #Pylos9!
On 25.08.2021, Homayoun Sabetara, a migrant fleeing Iran, was arrested by Greek authorities in Thessaloniki after having driven a vehicle across the Turkish-Greek border. Following an unfair trial in a language foreign to his own, on 26.09.2022, Mr. Sabetara was then sentenced to an 18-year prison sentence for alleged smuggling. Mr. Sabetara was reportedly coerced into piloting the vehicle from their departing point near the Turkish-Greek border, having to transport seven additional persons. Since his arrest in August 2021 he has been held in prison in Korydallos, Greece.
At the time of his escape from Iran, Homayoun Sabetara had no legal and safe passage available to travel to Germany, where his daughters currently reside.
Sign the petition and ask for his release!
You can find more info about how to support the case here: https://www.freehomayoun.org/en
For years, Lucano publicly promoted a radical, revolutionary system of integration that allowed the city of Riace (southern Italy) to flourish again: has welcomed more than 6,000 people from 20 different countries, housed them in independent flats instead of large reception centres, integrated them into the city’s cultural life and helped them find work, giving the city a new life. This was knows as ‘Riace Model’.
Since 2018, Lucano has been under house arrest and at the centre of an investigation by the prosecutor’s office. In September 2021, the court of Locri sentenced Lucano to 13 years and 2 months imprisonment. He is accused of “conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement, forgery”, unlawful acts in connection with reception projects for migrants, and also sentenced to a fine of 500,000 euros.
In October 2023 though, the appeal court, overturned the sentence and condemned him to 1 year and a half on probation, confirming only the charges of the crime of abuse of office.
As a consequence of this high criminalization, the ‘Riace model’, recognized worldwide as an example of welcoming migrants, was destroyed.
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”.
On the 9 of June, after a long day in court with a judge who asked racist and ironic questions, the outcome of the appeal trial is that Kheiraldin, Abdallah, Mohamad, the #Paros3 will be free in about six months!!!
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.
Father Mussie Zerai
In August 2017, Father Mussie Zerai had been charged with aiding and abetting unauthorized immigration within the larger Italian investigation against the iuventa-crew, Save the Children and Médecins sans Frontières. He has been freed from all charges in May 2022.
Don Zerai has fled himself from Eritrea to Italy in 1990 and thereupon, entered the priesthood, constantly advocating for and supporting refugees, especially from Eritrea, on the perilous journey at sea.
He is the founder and president of the NGO Habeshia, the “lifesaver of migrants,” and has for years offered telephone assistance, alerting authorities of boats crossing the Mediterranean to provide rescues. His commitment led to a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Despite the charged were dropped, Mussie Zerai anyway endured five years of uncertainty, suspicion and ‘numerous’ attacks on his work and personality.
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!”
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.
Gian Andrea Franchi and Lorena Fornasir
In February 2021, the Italian special squad had raided the private house of Gian Andrea Franchi and Lorena Fornasir, which also serves as the basis of the volunteer association “Linea d’Ombra”, which they founded. Telephones, business books and several materials were confiscated as “evidence”.
The the association organizes basic supplies like food, clothing and medical care for people on the move traveling through or stranded in Trieste, along the so-called Balkan Route.
The two were charged by the Trieste judiciary with “aiding and abetting unauthorized entry and residence” as part of a “criminal cell” that allegedly set up a network to take in people for profit.
In November 2021 the charges against the two were finally dropped due to a lack of evidence. However, the accused had to endure weeks of uncertainty and fear and became targets of public accusations.
The Libyan Football players
Joma, Ali, Abdelrahman and Mohannad left Libya in 2015, fleeing the civil war and hoping to continue their football careers on the pitch in Europe.
They crossed the Mediterranean sea on a wooden boat with more than 360 people. The police investigations following the landing identified the 4 Libyans as part of the ship’s ‘crew’. Their lawyers believe that the fact they speak Arabic and are from Libya, made other passengers and Italian police suppose they were part of those organising the journey. They were arrested as the “smugglers” and accused of “aiding and abetting illegal immigration”, with the aggravating circumstances of having caused the death of 49 people. In July 2021, Italy’s highest court confirmed the sentence of 30 years of prison. However, human rights organizations highlighted that the investigation and trials have been characterized by contradictions and inconsistencies in the witness’ statements.
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!
The case of mistaken identity
Berhe was arrested in Karthoum, Sudan, on 24 May 2016. Italian and British authorities presented it to the press as a coup, mistaking him for one of the world’s most wanted human traffickers, Medhanie Yehdego Mered, AKA the General.
Within a few hours of Berhe’s arrest, hundreds of Mered’s victims claimed the wrong man had been detained. According to the suspect’s family, far from being a notorious trafficker, he was an Eritrean refugee who earned his living on a dairy farm and working as a carpenter.
A three-year investigation by the Guardian, two DNA tests and an array of witnesses, a voice analysis of him and Mered, the results unequivocally concluded that the man in prison was not the trafficker.
In 2019, the Italian prosecutor dismissed the suggestions that they had the wrong man and demanded a 14-year prison term. However, the judge of the criminal court of Palermo, rejected the prosecutor’s claims “It was a case of mistaken identity, the man in prison was wrongly arrested.”
Berhe was found guilty instead of aiding illegal immigration for having helped his cousin to reach Libya. Because he had already served three years in prison, the judge ordered his immediate release.
After the verdict, he had filed an official request for asylum, which was accepted, meaning he is free to remain in Italy. Relatives have asked that Berhe be awarded damages for his wrongful detention and called for an investigation to be opened into why Sicily’s top prosecutors pursued the case.