A Greek court dismissed espionage charges on Friday against a group of volunteers on trial in Greece and ordered a prosecutor to refile the case, citing flaws in the litigation process, a defense lawyer and local media said.
The aid workers, some of them foreigners and including a Syrian refugee, were affiliated with Emergency Response Centre International, a nonprofit search-and-rescue group operating on Lesbos from 2016 to 2018. The island was then on the frontline of Europe's refugee crisis, with scores of asylum seekers arriving daily on its shores from Turkey.
The defendants face a raft of charges, including espionage, forgery using unauthorised radio frequencies' unlawful use.
In Friday's hearing on Lesbos the court upheld the defendants' objections, ruling that the espionage charges were vague and that prosecution documents were not translated for the foreign defendants, the lawyer said. A prosecutor has to refile the case but this might not be possible as the charges would fall under a statute of limitations, essentially meaning that the charges have collapsed, the lawyer added.
The trial began on Lesvos in November 2021 and was immediately adjourned as the case was referred to a different court. Proceedings resumed this week. The United Nations human rights office said on Friday the case had had a chilling effect on humanitarian organizations in the region and called for the charges to be dropped.
Back in 2021 the Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi, while not commenting on the specific case, told The Irish Times the issue was not with NGOs in general but with
"the tiny number of individuals who have broken the rules".
"I don't think Europe should be closed. We should offer support to people in need," Mitarachi said. "But we should not let the smugglers, who get paid thousands of euro from people suffering, decide who comes to Europe."
Greece has long accused Turkey of influencing migration flows as a tool to exert political pressure. This tactic by the Belarusian regime on the EU's eastern border has now made migration a border security issue a priority for several member states. It was previously a more remote concern.