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UN urges charges dropped in Greek migrant rescue trial

The United Nations on Friday urged all charges to be dropped in a long-delayed Greek trial of 24 migrant rescue workers accused of espionage, including prominent Syrian swimmer Sarah Mardini.

“Trials like these are deeply concerning because they criminalise life-saving work and set a dangerous precedent,” UN rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters.

“There has already been a chilling effect, with human rights defenders and humanitarian organisations forced to halt their human rights work in Greece and other EU countries,” she said.

“We reiterate our call for charges against the 24 to be dismissed.”

Her comments came after the trial resumed earlier this week after more than a year, with leading rights groups denouncing the case as a masquerade.

The trial was swiftly adjourned after it began in November 2021.

The suspects belong or are volunteers with Greek charity Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) which helped more than 1,000 people reach safety and provided survivors with assistance on the Greek island of Lesbos from 2016 to 2018, Throssell pointed out.

The court was to rule later Friday on whether to annul the espionage charges.

“We would welcome such developments but reiterate our call for all charges against all defendants to be dropped,” Throssell stressed.

The defendants are also under investigation for human trafficking, money laundering, fraud and the unlawful use of radio frequencies.

Those on trial include Sarah Mardini, whose flight from Syria’s civil war with her sister, Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, inspired a Netflix film.

“Saving lives and providing humanitarian assistance should never be criminalised or prosecuted,” Throssell insisted.

“Such actions are, quite simply, a humanitarian and human rights imperative.”

Criminalising people for doing life-saving work have dire consequences, she warned.

“Despite the critical need for life-saving assistance in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where nearly 500 migrants have died or gone missing since 2021… there are currently no civil search and rescue organisations operating in Greece,” Throssell said.