He Saved 31 People at Sea. Then Got a 142-Year Prison Sentence.

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Sunday, June 27, 2021
He Saved 31 People at Sea. Then Got a 142-Year Prison Sentence.

By Niki Kitsantonis | The New York Times | 27 June 2021 |

He Saved 31 People at Sea. Then Got a 142-Year Prison Sentence.

Greece is prosecuting migrants on charges of people smuggling, and imposing heavy jail terms. Rights groups say many migrants are being unfairly accused and sentenced.

When Hanad Abdi Mohammad grabbed the wheel of a foundering smuggling boat off the Aegean island of Lesbos last December, he said he was scared but determined to save himself and the other 33 people on board.

Six months later, Mr. Mohammad, 28, from Somalia, is in a prison on the Greek island of Chios after receiving a 142-year sentence for human smuggling.

“I still have nightmares about that night,” Mr. Mohammad said in comments relayed by his lawyers from prison, describing the fateful crossing from Turkey, in which two passengers died. But he said he had no regrets. “If I hadn’t done it, we’d all be dead.” 

A copy of the ruling from the Lesbos criminal court, dated May 13 and seen by The New York Times, said that Mr. Mohammad had been sentenced to a total of 142 years and 10 days in prison for smuggling undocumented migrants into Greece. But it added that he would serve a total of 20 years, the maximum allowed under Greece’s criminal code.

Mr. Mohammad is one of several asylum seekers in recent months to have received long prison terms for trafficking or facilitating illegal entry despite arguing that they were just seeking safety, according to human rights groups. The groups have identified dozens of such cases over the past few years, although it is difficult to arrive at an exact number.

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