Trial of Trinity graduate who helped rescue migrants in Mediterranean to begin over four years after arrest

Seán Binder is one of 24 humanitarian workers facing prison for search-and-rescue efforts in Greece

Trinity graduate Seán Binder is to face trial in Greece next week nearly four years after he was arrested for his efforts to rescue migrants in 2018.

Binder, who is a graduate of philosophy, political science, economics, and sociology (PPES), faces up to 25 years in prison for charges of people smuggling, money laundering, espionage and membership in a criminal organisation.

The trial, which was originally scheduled to take place in November 2021, was postponed indefinitely after the case was referred to a court of appeals. It is set to begin next Tuesday, January 10.

Binder is one of 24 members of the now-defunct Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) facing charges for their humanitarian work. A European Parliament report has called this the “largest case of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe”.

Speaking at a press conference at the European Parliament last month, Binder criticised the persistent procedural errors which have resulted in the case being prolonged “for year on year, so [that] this prosecution is effectively a form of persecution”.

Human Rights Watch have said that the prosecution of Binder and fellow defendant Sarah Mardini has been “riddled with procedural flaws that undermine their rights to due process and a fair trial”. These have included indictments being issued without translation, with missing documentation, or without clearly stating what offences individuals have actually been charged with.

Some defendants have also been denied permission to attend their own trials, including Mardini, who would have been tried in absentia in the 2021 trial due to a ban on her entering Greece, despite having been held in pre-trial detention in Athens for over 100 days before being granted bail.

Mardini, a Syrian refugee who was arrested on the same day as Binder in 2018, is the subject of recent Netflix film The Swimmers which documents her and her sister Yusra’s rescue of 18 refugees off the shore of Lesbos as they fled Syria in 2015. Yusra went on to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Speaking at the press conference in Brussels last month, Binder added: “All of these errors suggest that our right to a fair trial is being undermined. That’s why I’m here calling for respect for our rights and respect for the rule of law which I believe we all share and should uphold.”

Binder told those at the press conference: “Imagine you arrive at the scene of a car accident and there’s someone lying at the side of a road, and they clearly need your help. What would you check first, their pulse or their passport? Well if, like me, you check their pulse first, then you’ve committed the exact same crime that I’m supposed to have committed.”

“Oftentimes I’m told that my actions in trying to help people at risk of drowning were actually undermining European values, because the people who are coming in pose a threat to us all – yet I think that we’ve lost those values of peace and of justice if we’re closing our borders down against people in distress.”

Binder also spent over 100 days in pre-trial detention following his arrest, his initial appeal against being detained having been denied, before being granted bail following campaigning by family, friends and human rights organisations.

Born in Germany, Binder’s family moved to Co. Kerry when he was five years old. He studied PPES in Trinity before going on to complete a Masters in International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Among the other defendants facing trial are Nassos Karakitsos, a trained rescuer, Panos Moraitis, founder of ECRI, and Peter Wittenburg, who appeared alongside Binder at the European Parliament last month.

David Wolfe

David Wolfe is a Junior Sophister student of History and Political Science. He is the current Social Media and Managing Editor of Trinity News, having previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and copyeditor.