Trinity graduate Seán Binder is to stand trial in Greek court today, in a case human rights groups have described as “baseless” and “politically motivated”.
Binder and fellow activist Sarah Mardini have been charged with numerous offences including espionage, disclosure of state secrets, human trafficking and money laundering. They could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
The 27 year old was born in Germany and grew up in Kerry. He studied politics, philosophy, economics and sociology at Trinity before pursuing a masters in international relations at the London School of Economics. Binder is also a trained search and rescue diver, and travelled to the island of Lesbos in 2018 as a volunteer for Emergency Response International.
He and other volunteers monitored publicly-available coast guard radio channels to locate boats of refugees, to whom they provided aid, before they were arrested. Greek law enforcement says that the group is a “criminal organisation” posing as an NGO, and that it engaged in “profiteering” during the refugee crisis.
The accusations against Binder and Mardini, as well as 22 others who are also on trial, have been heavily criticised by rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Front Line Defenders, and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, as well as in a European Parliament-commissioned report.
Speaking to the Observer, Binder said “there’s nothing criminal, or heroic, about helping people in distress at sea. Legally and morally, it is the right thing to do”.
Binder spent 106 days in a high-security Greek prison after his 2018 arrest. He was then released on €5,000 bail, and returned to the UK. He flew back to Athens for the trial this week.
“I’m terrified,” he said, of the prospect of returning to prison.
“It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell. The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”
UK human rights law firm Leigh Day has published an opinion, commissioned by Binder, saying that Greek authorities have breached international law.
Tessa Gregory, partner at the firm, said: “We believe that there have been serious breaches of Seán’s human rights by the Greek authorities in relation to his detention, the charges brought against him and the delays in hearing his case in court.”
Mardini, who is Syrian and arrived in Europe as a refugee herself in 2015, will be tried in absentia. She was informed last Friday (November 12) that she is barred from re-entering Greece, despite being the subject of criminal charges there. Mardini currently lives in Germany.
She and her sister Yusra became famous in 2015 for saving fellow refugees from drowning after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean. Yusra Mardini has since competed in the Olympics and written a book about her experience, which is to be made into a movie.