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sean binder

Greek judge to rule on Friday whether to drop charges against Irish man accused of people smuggling

Seán Binder was arrested on the island of Lesbos in 2018.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 10th 2023, 1:28 PM

A GREEK COURT will decide later this week whether to dismiss a case against an Irish man and 23 other people who have been charged with crimes including people smuggling and espionage in the Mediterranean five years ago.

Solicitors for Seán Binder and his co-accused claimed at a hearing on the island of Lesbos this morning that the 24 individuals cannot fairly defend themselves because the prosecution has not provided specific evidence to support the accusations against them.

They have been charged with a range of offences by the Greek authorities, including misdemeanour counts of espionage-related offences, illegal access to state communications and assisting criminal activity. 

All defendants deny responsibility and claim they wanted to save the lives of migrants when Lesbos was overwhelmed by refugee arrivals from nearby Turkey.

Today’s hearing of the case was the first since it was adjourned on procedural grounds at a previous hearing in November 2021.

The court heard submissions from multiple solicitors for the co-accused, who argued that charges against the defendants were too vague to enable each of the accused to properly defend themselves.

Solicitors claimed subpoenas issued by the prosecution did not contain any evidence for the crimes alleged to have been committed, and did not refer to specific dates on which the alleged crimes took place.

They told the court that the prosecution alleged that crimes occurred in various, unspecific time periods, which meant individual defendants did not know the exact time and day that they were accused of doing something.

In one instance, a solicitor claimed his client was referred to as ‘defendant number 6′ on the first page of a subpoena and as ‘defendant number 7′ on another page, meaning that she could not know whose crimes she was supposed to be defending.

Another solicitor argued that the accusation of espionage against the co-defendants was too general, because it did not refer to the type of information that was alleged to have been shared or what state secret had been leaked. 

They said that the defendants did not know whether they had to defend themselves from sharing information about the number of boats arriving off Lesbos, the number of individual migrants arriving, where they were going, or something else.

A different solicitor acting for defendants based outside Greece told the court that the accusations were a vague interpretation of the law, and that if they were unclear in Greek, they would be equally unclear in a different language.

The judge agreed to adjourn the case until Friday, when she will rule on whether to accept or reject the submissions made on behalf of the co-accused.

‘The rule of flaw’

Binder was born in Germany, but grew up in Castlegregory, Co Kerry. He spent more than 100 days in prison in Lesbos after twice being arrested in 2018.

The 28-year-old travelled to Greece in 2017 to volunteer with a Greek NGO which carried out search-and-rescue operations and alerted authorities about migrants crossing to Lesbos from Turkey.

Speaking outside court afterwards, he said his defence team had provided “irrefutable” reasons why the charges against him should be dropped.

“The prosecution has made mistake after mistake: they’ve violated our human rights; they’ve made procedural errors; they’ve done everything possible so that this trial can’t happen,” he said.

“All we’re asking for, all our lawyers have demanded, is that the rule of law is respected and that Greek laws are respected.

“We want the rule of law, and we’ll find out on Friday whether we get the rule of law or the rule of flaw.”

Amnesty International previously called on the Greek authorities to drop the case, describing the charges as baseless and claiming that the volunteers were simply “helping refugees and migrants at risk of drowning at sea”.

Dozens of MEPs have also signed a letter, drafted by Green Party MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan, indicating their support for the co-accused and questioning the basis of the charges against them.

Also speaking outside court today, O’Sullivan expressed hope that the charges would be dropped.

“These are people who try to protect the rule of law in terms of the United Nations laws on rescuing at sea, whereby people like Seán – humanitarians who see people in absolute distress – have gone in as search-and-rescue and taken them out of the sea.”