Four humanitarian activists who had been imprisoned on baseless charges in Greece were released on bail today by an investigative judge. The authorities should now drop the ridiculous charges against them.
Among those bailed is 23-year-old Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini. Mardini traveled by boat from Turkey to Greece in 2015. When the engine failed, she and her younger sister, who went on to represent the Refugee team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, helped save others on board by swimming and keeping the boat afloat until it reached Lesbos.
Mardini, along with two Greek nationals, Nassos Karakitsos and Panos Moraitis, and another foreign volunteer, Sean Binder, had been held in prolonged pretrial detention for their work with a non-profit organization, Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), founded by Moraitis.
Mardini was taking a semester off from her studies at Bard College Berlin, to return to Lesbos as a humanitarian volunteer. She and Binder, 24, a German national, were arrested on August 21, 2018, just as she was about to fly back home. After being held in pretrial detention for more than 100 days, they have finally been bailed, and will now be allowed to leave Greece.
The charges, which Human Rights Watch analyzed, perversely misrepresented the group’s search-and-rescue operations as a smuggling crime ring, and its legitimate fundraising activities by a nonprofit organization as money laundering.
The arrests forced the group to cease its operations, including maritime search and rescue, the provision of medical care, and non-formal education to asylum seekers.
The case isn’t over. Mardini and Binder still face criminal charges that carry potential decades in prison time – a chilling thought for other humanitarians, even as European governments are failing to protect migrants and refugees at sea. More than 2,130 people have died in 2018 trying to cross the Mediterranean. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions warned that deaths due to the criminalization of life-saving acts of solidarity and compassion amount to arbitrary deprivation of the right to life.
Greek authorities should promptly drop the case against Mardini and her colleagues and ensure that no more humanitarian activists face such unfounded accusations. Lives depend on it.