We publish 2 statements by Legal Centre Lesvos about and HIAS Greece about the trial against refugees who protested on Lesvos island (Greek territory).
Submitted to Enough is Enough.
110 REFUGEE PROTESTORS ACQUITTED OF CRIMINAL CHARGES, BUT CRIMINALIZATION OF PROTEST CONTINUES
Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece – May 9th, 2019 – The Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Mytilene has acquitted the 110 protestors who were charged with illegal occupation of public property, revolt with the use of physical force, and resistance following the racist attack in Mytilene’s Sappho Square on April 22, 2018.
In April 2018, after an Afghan refugee from Moria refugee camp died due to insufficient provision of health services, a group of approximately 200 refugees from Moria gathered in Sappho Square, to protest the insufficient medical services and poor living conditions in the camp, the largest in Greece. On April 22, during an attack by a far-right group against the protesting refugees, police tried to disband the refugees and eventually detained 120 refugees and two Greek citizens. There were 12 children among the detained refugees. On April 23, criminal charges were pressed against the detainees including illegal occupation of public property, revolt with the use of physical force and resistance.
HIAS Greece, which represented 33 defendants in the criminal proceedings, considers the decision of the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Mytilene to be the only reasonable outcome for the case. “This decision warrants no celebrations, “warned HIAS Greece Country Director Vassilis Kerasiotis. “The mere fact that 110 participants of a peaceful protest were tried in a court of justice, after suffering a racist attack and disproportionate use of violence by the police, is deeply concerning.” From the use of violence for disbandment of a peaceful protest to the criminal prosecution of the participants, all the decisions of the authorities pertaining to the case point towards criminalization of protest – a phenomenon wider than this particular case and therefore all the more worrisome. The Greek Constitution guarantees the right to protest to everyone present inside the jurisdiction of the Greek state and the competent authorities have the obligation to defend it for everyone, regardless of their citizenship or migration status.
HIAS Greece, May 9, 2019
Trial of Sapfous 122- Not Guilt verdict on all charges-Peaceful demonstration and the human right to freedom of assembly prevails
On 9th of May 2019, in the Misdemeanours Court of Mytilene, the 110 on trial for resistance against authorities, riot, and illegal occupation of public property were found not-guilty of all charges agasint them.
The charges were brought last year, after a peaceful sit-in of approximately 180 refugees took place in a small part of Sappho Square in the center of Mytilene between April 17- 23, 2018, in protest against poor living conditions in Moria Camp, lack of medical care and access to health services, imprisonment on the island and the long delay in their asylum process. The trigger of the mobilisation was the hospitalisation and death of an Afghan asylum seeker with serious health problems.
What fundamentally differentiated this peaceful demonstration from previous demonstrations by refugees in Sappho Square was the unprecedented organised violent assault against the protestors by far-right elements with fascist and racist motives from the afternoon of 22 April up to 4 a.m. the following day, 23 April.
While the police initially made efforts to protect the protestors during the attack, as is their duty, and formed a protective ring around them so as not to come in direct contact with the attacking mob, they did not manage to protect them from the continuous throwing of stones, glasses, flaming objects, tiles, and bottles; which resulted in many injuries to the demonstrators and those standing in solidarity with them.
Throughout the night, the police did not arrest any of the attackers, as one might expect. Instead, in the early morning when the situation was seemingly calm, the police continued the assault against the demonstrators and carried out a swift and violent evacuation of the Square, using tear gas and riot gear to forcibly encircle the demonstrators. The fearful and panicked demonstrators, including many mothers and young children, were arrested and led to the police vans without any prior warning, making it self evident in the trial that no rioting or resistance during the operation of the evacuation could have taken place.
For all the above reasons, the acquittal on all charges of all the accused is important, as was the recognition by the court that the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful demonstration superseded the alleged crime of illegal occupation of public property.
It was evident throughout the trial, through the testimony of the witnesses and defendants, that what was at issue was not that the public square was partially occupied, perhaps at the inconvenience of some individuals – but that the state was attempting to criminalize the constitutionally and legally exercised right to freedom of assembly. They did so with such tactics as disassociation of this trial from the unprecedented fascist and violent assault on the migrants, and by proceeding to trial in a case that lacked evidence of any crime being committed. Like many similar cases of criminalization of migrants in Lesvos, this case never should have gone to trial.
Legal Center Lesvos represented eight of the defendants, and appeared as a witness in the trial, having monitored the peaceful protest and the violent attack and arrest on the night of 22-23 April, joining HIAS Greece who represented 33 defendants at trial. We welcome this outcome, as it is the only logical outcome if the rule of law and the rights of individuals to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are upheld.
Legal Centre Lesvos, May 11, 2019
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