The trial of a Syrian refugee and competitive swimmer whose story inspired the Netflix film The Swimmers is set to begin on the island of Lesvos, Greece on Friday.
Sarah Mardini, a prominent human rights worker, is one of twenty-four aid workers and volunteers on trial due to charges of human smuggling. It is a case which human rights groups have widely criticized.
Their case was denounced in a European Parliament report as Europe’s “largest case of criminalization of solidarity.”
The volunteers were initially detained in 2018 for several months on suspicion of human trafficking, but the charges facing the group in Lesvos involve espionage, illegal access to state communications, money laundering, and assisting criminal activity.
Police said in 2018 that the volunteers had collected information about refugee flows from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos and provided direct assistance to organized trafficking groups.
The story of the Syrian refugee that inspired Netflix’s The Swimmers
Mardini fled Syria with her sister, Yusra Mardini, who competed in the refugee swimming team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and in Tokyo in 2021.
The sisters were once among Syria’s most promising swimmers. Still, they found themselves swimming for their lives after jumping off an inflatable boat that started sinking while carrying refugees to Greece.
Their harrowing escape from their war-torn homeland inspired the 2022 Netflix drama The Swimmers.
The trial of Mardini and her co-defendants began on Tuesday but was adjourned for Friday. They all deny the charges and say they tried to help people whose lives were in grave danger.
Mardini and Sean Binder, an Irish volunteer, spent more than three months in jail in Lesbos after being arrested in 2018. The case was postponed in 2021 due to procedural issues.
Speaking outside the court on Tuesday, Binder said, “What’s on trial today is human rights. That is the fundamental problem.” He said the group was “desperate” to go on trial because what they did was “legal.”
“We need the judge to acknowledge that we need to get through this because until then, there is a shadow of a doubt, not over me alone, but over anybody who does search and rescue,” he said.
The case against the volunteers has been branded “farcical” by the human rights organization Amnesty International, which has urged Greek authorities to drop the charges.
Earlier in the week, a Somali migrant sentenced to 142 years in prison in Greece for human trafficking had his sentence overturned after receiving legal support from EU lawmakers.
Mohammed Hanad Abdi received the verdict after his capture off the coast of Lesvos in 2021.
On Monday, however, 28-year-old Abdi appeared in court to appeal what he called a wrongful conviction. During the appeal today, the 142-year sentence was reduced to eight after which Abdi was released for time served and good behavior.
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