cpt.org | 26 January 2023
Reporting a trial that never started: ‘ERCI and others’
The case of ‘ERCI and others’ is part of a series of prosecutions happening in the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea that aim to criminalize solidarity and the rescue of migrants. However, this particular case stands out in that the defendants are seeking to stand trial in every way possible, and the court, five years later, is denying it. As one of the defendants says:
“This trial was and remains a farce. If we were the dangerous criminals they portray us as, they managed to leave us unpunished and free for over four years, during which we could have continued to commit the horrible crimes they accuse us of. Crimes, that occurred severe enough to them, to lock up people in pretrial detention. Among them, two young students, to make sure they would not evade their responsibility, while in the end, one of them was banned from entering the country and therefore from attending their trial. Well, fortunately, we are not criminals and not guilty of any crime we are accused of—so there was no danger for society or the Greek state at any time.”
The judicial process:
In August 2018, three rescuers from the NGO ERCI1, Sara Mardini, Sean Binder and Nassos Karakitsos, were arrested in Mytilene. The three of them were detained for approximately three months in a Greek prison and were then released on bail. These three arrests were followed by criminal charges brought against 21 additional people. Some of them had ties to ERCI, while others had no connection to the organization. The criminal charges span a period of about two years (2016-2018) and contain both misdemeanours and felonies. The case was divided into two sub-cases for trial, one involving the misdemeanour charges while the other involved the felony charges, so as not to miss the statute of limitation for the misdemeanour charges.
The felony charges being prosecuted are, among others, the charges of
1) establishment and participation in a criminal organization;
2) money laundering; and
3) facilitating the illegal entry of foreigners (commonly known as smuggling).
To date, five years after the indictment, the 24 defendants have not been summoned to trial for the felonies, as the case is still at the investigation stage.
With the statute of limitations on the misdemeanour charges looming, the case reached court for the first time on 18 November 2021. However, the trial did not start because the court declared itself incompetent, as one of the defendants is a practicing lawyer, and therefore the case must be tried in a higher court (court of appeal), according to the code of criminal procedure. The defence lawyers raised a series of objections for all the legal errors that had been committed to that point, but the court did not take them into account as it had already declared that it had no jurisdiction. The prosecution for the multiple misdemeanour charges, in this case,
3) possession of radio frequencies; and
4) facilitation of a criminal organization
continue, referred to the court of appeal. The accused, in turn, insisted that they wish to be tried.
This is how we have arrived to January 2023, where all the extensive errors, procedural irregularities, and illogical leaps that are included in the case file and which are the basis on which the defendants have been dragged from hearing to hearing for five years, were revealed in the courtroom—without even starting the trial.