Yesterday, Saturday 12 June, four teenage asylum seekers were found guilty of ‘arson with risk to human life’ and sentenced to ten years imprisonment at Chios court after the fire in Lesvos’ Moria camp. Despite documents proving that three of the accused were minors at the time of arrest, they were tried as adults. Two of the six defendants had already been sentenced in March at the juvenile court in Lesvos.
Over 70 European organisations and hundreds of individuals had made the call for a fair and transparent trial. Despite a lack of clear evidence of the four defendants’ involvement in the multiple fires, they were found guilty after a two-day trial.
Yesterday’s verdict came as no surprise to international trial observers who criticised the lack of evidence and spoke of an unfair trial procedure. Only 15 people were allowed in the courtroom. The public, including journalists, a delegation of international observers, and a representative of the UNHCR, was prevented from observing proceedings. At least six police officers were in the room – a disproportionate number that was not necessary to secure the court. A strong crowd of people showed their support for the defendants in front of the court building.
The six defendants were presented as guilty from the moment of their arrest. The Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, had already stated in an interview with CNN on 16 September 2020 that ‘The camp was set on fire by six Afghan refugees who were arrested.’
None of the fifteen prosecution witnesses who testified in court had seen the defendants on the night of the alleged crime. Defence lawyer Natasha Dailiani stated: ‘The only witness who identified the accused did not present himself to the court. His written testimony was full of inconsistencies.’ Lawyers claimed that the witness had only given police six first names, common among the population of the camp, which was the basis for their arrest.
Nevertheless, the three judges and four jurors unanimously ruled that the defendants were guilty of arson with endangerment to human life, and the aggravating circumstance of the destruction of private property.
The four accused had already been in pre-trial detention for nine months before the trial. A request by their lawyers to have the case heard by the Juvenile Court was rejected. Witnesses for the defence spoke of outward harassment by the court.
The two other defendants, officially recognised as minors, had already been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Lesvos juvenile court in March 2021 in what observers labeled an unfair trial.
After the end of today’s trial, Annina Mullis, trial observer on behalf of Democratic Lawyers Switzerland (DJS) and European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), summarised:
“Based on the impressions gathered outside the court building and the detailed information provided by the lawyers, I agree with their assessment that the trial as a whole does not meet the standards of a fair trial.”
Defence lawyer Effie Doussi states, “We will exhaust all legal remedies to ensure that the accused get a fair trial and a clear verdict showing that they are innocent.”
Oda Becker, an activist and member of the Free the Moria 6 solidarity campaign, has followed both trials and is in ongoing contact with those affected along with their family and friends. Commenting on the trial she said, “We will continue to support the wrongfully convicted boys and their families in solidarity! The case of the Moria 6 is not the first time that migrants have been arbitrarily arrested and charged in Greece. This practice has long been part of the inhumane EU border regime. However, in the current political environment, the criminalisation of migration has reached a new level, as have the illegal pushbacks of migrants by the authorities.”