Trial report - Lesbos: Mohamad H. sentenced to 142 years in prison
On Thursday, 13th May 2021, refugee Mohamad H. was sentenced to 142 years* in prison in the court of Mytilene, Lesbos. The sentence was passed despite the passengers of the boat testiyfing that they owe their lives to the actions of Mohamad. The lawyers will file an appeal.
"Why you did not come to Greece with a ferry or by buying a ticket?" - This one single question posed by the judge to Mohamad captures in a shocking way the absurdiy, the cruel cynism and the complete lack of contact with reality that the arrests and subsequent trials of refugees as "smugglers" in Greece but also everywhere else are based on.
On Thursday, 13th May 2021, the trial of 27-year-old refugee Mohamad H. took place in Mytilene, Lesbos. As previously reported, Mohamad H. was arrested upon arrival for being the “boat driver” of the boat in which he and 33 other passengers tried to reach Greece, and consequently charged with the “transportation of third-country nationals without permission to enter into Greek territory” (smuggling) with the aggravating circumstances of endangering the life of 31 people and causing the death of two. He had tried to save everyone's life during a shipwreck by somehow steering the boat safely ashore, being a refugee himself with no experience in seafaring. Unfortunately, the boat capsized and two women died (read more).
At the trial, eight people who were in the same boat with Mohamad H. appeared in court in order to defend him. Two of them were accepted as witnesses and to testify before the court. They stated that Mohamad was one of them who just tried to save everyone’s life, that the smuggler was a Turkish man who abandoned them in the sea and that the shipwreck was caused by the actions of the smuggler and the Turkish Coast Guard that did not save them even though they called for help.
However, the judge insisted on the fact that in the preliminary hearing two witnesses pointed to the defendant as the "driver" although the defense stressed that during the preliminary hearing the interpretation was problematic, as it was in English and not in Somali, as well as the fact that they did not point out the defendant as the smuggler but as the person who drove the boat in a situation of distress.
Also Mohamad H. repeated once more that he was a refugee himself and not the smuggler. He explained that he neither knew how to drive a boat nor did he want to and that he only took the wheel in order to save his co-passengers from drowning. He did this without knowing that simply steering a wheel is considered a crime under Greek law.
To this, the judge responded by asking: "How is it possible you did not know that what you were doing was illegal? Then why you did not come to Greece with a ferry or by buying a ticket?"
In light of the fact that there are no safe and legal pathways to enter Europe and claim asylum, this question is not just grotesque and completely out of touch with reality, but cynical and cruel. It is the European policy of deterrence and closed borders that forces people onto makeshift boats and perilous journeys and to risk their lives and the lives of their families. Maybe someone should explain to this court how the European ayslum system works before they sentence a refugee to 142 years because he "did not just take the ferry or buy a ticket".
The prosecutor’s suggestion on the guilt of the defendant was for him to be found guilty only for the crime of article 30-par.1 point a. (law 4251/2014): "transportation of third-country nationals without permission to enter into Greek territory". Nevertheless, the judges insisted on the initial accusation of being also guilty of the aggravating circumstances (points c and d of article 30), meaning "endangering people’s lives" and "causing the death of passengers". They accepted the mitigating circumstance of "prior lawful life" resulting into avoiding the life sentences as well as the money penalty. In more detail, they imposed 15 years incarceration for each deceased person (2 women) and 8 years for each transported person (31 people). Following a procedure called "merging of sentences" in Greek law, this resulted in a final sentence of 142 years.
The defense, the lawyers Dimitris Choulis and Alexandros Georgoulis, will file an appeal against the decision.
*in an older version we wrote 146 years as this was the original sentence. However, after a recalculation, the court came up with 142 years.
Contact: Julia Winkler, email@example.com
- Lesbos: Refugee faces two life sentences after surviving shipwreck and trying to save 33 lives: https://www.borderline-europe.de/unsere-arbeit/lesbos-gefl%C3%BCchtetem-droht-zweimal-lebensl%C3%A4nglich-haft-nachdem-er-bei-einem-schiffbruch?l=en
- Infomigrants: Greece: Migrant accused of smuggling sentenced to 146 years in prison: https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/32248/greece-migrant-accused-of-smuggling-sentenced-to-146-years-in-prison
- Are You Syrious: Somali father sentenced to 146 years in prison for trying to save dozens of lives off Lesvos: https://medium.com/are-you-syrious/ays-daily-digest-13-05-2021-somali-father-sentenced-to-146-years-in-prison-for-trying-to-save-a02013048365
- Chronicle: Greece: Migrant sentenced to 146 years in prison for smuggling: https://www.chronicle.gm/greece-migrant-sentenced-to-146-years-in-prison-for-smuggling/
Copyright image: Tingey Injury Law Firm, Unsplash
Monday, 17th May 2021