The appeal trial of four of the Moria 6, originally scheduled for Monday 6 March 2023, has been postponed one year to 4 March 2024 by the Court of Appeal in Mytilene, Lesvos. Until then, the four young men convicted of the Moria fires in 2020 will likely have to remain in prison, even though it can now be proven that the evidence against them is false.
On 6 March the case was not heard, as the judges ended the scheduled hearings early in the afternoon, postponing the case for just two days until 8 March. The defence lawyers objected that on this day there would be a Panhellenic General Strike (because of the train accident at Tempi that killed 57 people), on the basis that the court would not be functional and the trial would be postponed. Ultimately the court used the strike to postpone the trial, and further found no other available date for the trial to take place within next year.
After two days of waiting in handcuffs, guarded by riot police in the courtroom, the boys were finally told that their trial was postponed and that they would have to return to prison for another year. On learning of this decision, the boys were in shock, despair, and anger. The outrage of the supporters, international trial observers and journalists in the full courtroom was huge. It is worth noting that, even the residents of Moria village, who lost their land to the fire, were saying among themselves: “Will these children be in prison for another year? We don’t even know who did it [the arson]”.
The postponement of the appeal for the Moria 6 means that crucial new evidence – showing that the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness is completely flawed – will not be examined for another year.
This new evidence comes from the investigation conducted by Forensic Architecture (FA) and Forensis (commissioned by the lawyers representing the Moria 6) to map the development of the fire on 8 September 2020 and to interrogate the testimony of the key witness. (1)
Some results of the analysis include:
- The fire was the latest of hundreds of fires in the history of the overcrowded camp. It shows that the fire was a predictable consequence of the precarious and unsafe living conditions created and maintained for years by the EU and Greek authorities.
- The reconstruction showed that shortly after 11:30 p.m. on 8 September 2020, the first fires broke out near Zone 6, which soon spread over the entire camp due to the wind direction and strength, and because of the flammable materials (gas canisters for cooking, tarpaulins and plastic covers of the tents). The fire raged for three days and completely destroyed the largest refugee camp in Europe.
- The key witness claimed that a group of youths set fires in Zone 12, where he lived. He claimed to have identified five of the defendants. However, analysis showed that spot fires in Zone 12 were caused not by arson, but by embers from fires in other areas. This was the most serious (but not the only) error in the witness’s testimony.
- The witness also testified that in the evening hours of 8 September he saw fires in Zone 9. However, the analysis of satellite images shows that Zone 9 did not burn that night, but in the following nights.
Dimitra Andritsou, research coordinator of the FA/Forensis team, stated: “The analysis we conducted […] proves that the young asylum seekers accused of arson were arrested on the basis of weak and contradictory evidence, suggesting that […] the Greek government needed a scapegoat for a disaster that was pre-programmed.” (2)
Only a few days after the fires in September 2020, the police had arrested six teenagers (the Moria 6) and accused them of arson. From the moment of their arrest, they were already presented to the public as guilty. On 16 September 2020, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, stated in an interview with CNN that “the camp was set on fire by six Afghan refugees who were arrested”. (3) This early statement violated the right to presumption of innocence, which is due to all defendants and is a prerequisite for fair trials.
The Moria 6 were tried in two separate trials that were widely described as a “parody of justice.” Although documents proving their age were available, only two of the six arrested were recognized as minors. The two minors were sentenced to five years in prison. The four defendants who were identified as adults, were sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2021 in the first instance of arson endangering human life, with the court refusing to consider any mitigating circumstances. The international trial observers concluded in their comprehensive report on the trial, now published, that the defendants’ right to a fair trial was repeatedly violated. (4) “They did not listen to us at all,” said one lawyer as she left the courtroom, “this verdict was already determined when the defendants were arrested in mid-September 2020.” Immediately after the verdict was announced, the defence filed an appeal.
The postponement of the Moria 6 appeal also means that important new evidence showing that three of the four young men were minors when they were arrested cannot be examined for another year.
It must be emphasized again that the court relied solely on the written testimony of a witness who allegedly could no longer be found. However, his testimony is full of contradictions as the extensive analysis of the night of the fire now shows. The witness was not present at any trial. During the first trial, the lawyers objected and asked the court to disregard the testimony of this man, since he had not described the defendants, but only mentioned common first names. The lawyers could now show that his whereabouts were known during the first trial. It can only be assumed that the court was aware of the fictitious testimony of the only witness, and that they did not want to jeopardize the conviction of the youths in this political trial, despite the lack of evidence.
The fear of a preliminary conviction had already come true when the two Moria 6 youths who were officially recognized as minors, were sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Lesvos Juvenile Court in March 2021. On 7 June 2022, the sentence from the first instance was confirmed by the Juvenile Court of Appeal, although there was still no credible evidence. Τhe sentence was only reduced from five to four years due to “good behavior in prison.” The Legal Centre Lesvos filed an application to annul the unfair sentence. This was discussed before the Supreme Court on 10 March 2023. The decision is expected in the upcoming months. All three previous trials of the Moria 6 were gross miscarriages of justice and blatantly violated the rights of the defendants. We are not optimistic that the Greek court will recognize the serious procedural errors in this case. However, the trial before the Supreme Court is a prerequisite for taking the case to the European Court of Justice.
At least one of the six defendants is now free, as his request for release on parole was granted. The other five juveniles have now been in prison for more than 2.5 years. Defence lawyers intend to request that the young men be conditionally released from prison on parole, but we are not so hopeful that the court will accept this request. Political and public pressure from all of us could increase the chances of their release!
The injustices committed since the arrest of the Moria 6 are unfortunately not isolated cases, but part of the systematic criminalization of asylum seekers in Greece. Arbitrary and lengthy postponements of trials have become the norm and part of the cruel treatment by the Greek judicial system. The brutal criminalization has led to a complete overload of the judicial system, making it more and more a collapsing system of injustice.
The sentencing of the six youths is another shocking example of how people on the move are criminalized to distract from the crime of the EU and Greece to build and maintain inhumane camps like Moria.
We stand in solidarity with the Moria 6 and against the deadly EU Border regime!
We call on the EU and the Greek state to take responsibility for the inhumane camps they created that result only human suffering!
++Share the info, organize solidarity actions under the hashtag #FreeTheMoria6.
++For information on the legal context, see Legal Centre Lesvos (5).
More information and contacts:
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: #FreeTheMoria6