Moria 35 Trial Ends in Conviction of 32 – But After 9 Months of Unjust Detention, the 35 will Finally be Free!
While all 35 defendants should soon be released from detention, a gross miscarriage of justice took place today at the Mixed Jury Court in Chios, Greece where a ruling of guilty was declared against 32 of the 35 defendants. The 35 were arbitrarily and violently arrested in Moria camp in Lesvos on 18 July 2017 following what started as a peaceful protest outside of an EASO office. This inherently unsafe verdict, reached despite an overwhelming lack of evidence, follows a week long trial which continuously violated fundamental principles of a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and brings into serious question the impartiality of both the Judges and Prosecutor in the case.
32 of the 35 defendants were found guilty of injury to public officials, but acquitted on all other charges. The three individuals detained by a firefighter outside Moria Camp were found innocent of all charges; the testimony against them discredited as inconsistent and lacking credibility as the firefighter misidentified the defendants in court.
While the evidence against the remaining 32 defendants was similarly inconsistent, the three judges and four jurors unanimously found the 32 guilty. This ruling was reached without the prosecutor proving the necessary elements of the crime: there was only evidence of superficial injuries to one police officer, and there was no credible evidence identifying any of the 32 as having assaulted any police officer. Police witnesses testified that all 32 defendants arrested inside Moria Camp were guilty simply because they were present in the African section of the camp after clashes between some migrants and riot police had ended. Confirmation by the court that guilt can be implied by race and location near to where alleged crimes took place sets an extremely dangerous precedent for arrests following riots and protests.
The defense witnesses included residents from Mytilene and Moria Camp, who confirmed that Moria Camp was never evacuated, that people freely entered and exited the camp throughout the afternoon through back entrances and that the camp was calm for roughly an hour before the arrests took place. Many defendants testified about their participation in the protest calling for freedom of movement from Lesvos to mainland Greece, an end to unjust asylum procedures on the island, and against deplorable conditions in Moria. They explained that police responded violently, dispersing the protestors with excessive use of tear gas. Others testified that they entered Moria camp after it was calm, only to find themselves violently arrested during the police raid. The excessive police violence was confirmed in the trial through medical documentation of injuries to defendants, video evidence of the arrests, and the testimony of several witnesses and defendants. The public prosecutor in Mytilene has already opened an investigation against unknown police officers for causing serious bodily harm to 12 of the 35 defendants.
The trial in Chios was fraught with serious procedural problems, including an absence of interpretation for the majority of the trial and the severely limited time the defendants and defence witnesses were given to present their side of the story. An International delegation of legal observers were present throughout the trial and will be publishing a report regarding their assessment regarding its fairness in due course.
It defies all logic, despite shocking video footage of police attacks against the defendants; and police witnesses unable to positively identify any of the 35 in court, that 32 were found guilty.
This ruling comes only four days after the 23 April 2018 arrests and criminal charges brought against 122 individuals – mostly Afghan – who had been peacefully protesting in Mytilene and were viciously attacked by fascist militant thugs before being arrested by the police. We are extremely concerned that the decision of the Chios Court will further encourage the State to continue criminalizing those who resist the State’s hostile policies against them.
The guilty verdict has been appealed by the 32, who were given a 26 month suspended prison sentence. This sentence itself is unreasonable as it is 19 months longer than the recommended 7 months proposed by the prosecutor at the conclusion of the proceedings.
As the 32 found guilty are eligible for a suspended prison sentence, the good news is that after nine months of unjust detention awaiting trial, the 35 will finally be freed.
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