After 3 years of imprisonment: appeal proceedings against Amir Zahiri and Akif Razuli to take place on Lesbos

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Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe e.V., You can't evict Solidarity and Deportation Monitoring Aegean

After the asylum seekeres Amir Zahiri (27) and Akif Razuli (24) from Afghanistan were sentenced to 50-year prison terms in September 2020 for "aiding and abetting unauthorized entry" despite a lack of evidence, the appeal hearing in Mytiline, Lesvos, which has been postponed several times, will finally take place this Thursday, December 8, 2022. The two defendants are accused of being "smugglers". Several initiatives are calling for the acquittal and release of the two defendants.

Amir and Razuli, 25 and 23, fled from Afghanistan trying to reach Europe in search of a life in safety. With Europe's ever-increasing closure of borders and the lack of safe and legal ways to enter Europe and claim asylum, they were forced to embark on the dangerous journey on a rubber boat across the Aegean Sea. Amongst the other people in the boat was also Amir's young daughter and his heavily pregnant wife.*

They made their journey in March 2020, the month in which the Greek government announced the suspension of one of the most fundamental human rights - the right to apply for asylum -, and consequently charged people seeking protection with their own "illegal entry", blatantly contradicting EU law and the Geneva Convention.

The Greek coast guard attacked the boat as soon as they had entered Greek waters and tried to push it back into Turkish waters using metal poles. In doing so, they punctured the boat, causing water to enter and putting the life of the people onboard at risk.

As the boat was about to sink, the coast guard eventually took them on board.

Following this deeply traumatizing experience, the coast guard proceeded with heavily beating up Amir and Razuli, arbitrarily accusing the two of being the smugglers. According to Amir's wife who had to witness all of this together with her daughter, they only stopped when she held up their young child in front of her husband begging the men to stop.

As soon as they arrived at the Greek island of Lesbos, Amir and Razuli were separated from the rest of the group and brought to the police station. The coast guard accused them of their own entry, of facilitating the unauthorized entry of the other people on the boat and of having endangered the people's lives. They were since held in pre-trial detention and sentenced to 50 years in prison on 8th of September 2020. Although there is no evidence against them except for the statement of the coast guards, they were only acquitted of the accusation of "provoking a shipwreck".

The appeal hearing, which has already been postponed twice, is now scheduled for December 8, 2022 in Mytilene on Lesvos. The appeal hearing was first interrupted on March 18, 2022, and later adjourned again on April 7, 2022, for questionable reasons. The request for the release of the two defendants until the next trial date was also rejected by the court at that time, although proposed even by the prosecution itself. 

Although there is no evidence against them, both defendants have now been in custody for almost 3 years and are awaiting their appeal.

Despite the abundance of evidence of systematic push-backs by the Greek coast guard, attempts have been made to shift the blame onto migrants by criminalising them. This is in stark contrast to the complete impunity of violence against migrants at the Greek borders.

The case of Amir and Razuli is not isoldated.

CPT - Aegean Migrant Solidarity: "People charged with smuggling offences form the second largest prison population in Greece. Finally these unjust procedures are being brought into the spotlight. Many of these migrants are put into the prison system and sentenced without credible evidence and without anyone knowing or caring who they are."

All observers, relatives and people showing solidarity hope that this week will see an end to the illegal and political trial of Amir Zahiri and Akif Razuli. 

Lorraine Leete of the Legal Centre Lesvos, whose lawyers are defending Akif Razuli, explains: "Amir and Razuli should never have been arrested, let alone convicted and imprisoned without evidence of the alleged crime. Even though the two will never get back the nearly three years they spent in prison, we hope that this miscarriage of justice will be corrected as their appeal continues."

borderline-europe: "Long prison sentences for refugees because they dared to arrive in Europe? The European Union's treatment of people on the move in the 21st century is nothing but shameful and pathetic and we must fight it together."

The Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe e.V., You can't evict Solidarity and Deportation Monitoring Aegean have followed the trial since the beginning and supported the two. We continue to stand in solidarity with the defendants, no matter how long it will take until Amir Zaheri and Akif Razuli can finally be free again.

We demand the release of Amir Zaheri and Akif Razuli and acquittal on all charges!

We demand freedom for all those imprisoned for driving a boat or a car with other people on the move despite the fact that there is no alternative to reach the European Union;

We demand and an end to the criminalisation of migrant and the incarceration of people on the move!


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Tuesday, 06 December 2022