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Greek court drops charges in case of migrant shipwreck which killed 350 Pakistanis

By AFP

May 21, 2024 11:28 AM


Greek trial of worst migrant tragedy which killed 350 Pakistanis opens

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A court in Greece on Tuesday dismissed the charges against nine suspects in one of the Mediterranean's worst migrant shipwrecks, saying it did not have jurisdiction to try the case.

The rusty and overloaded trawler Adriana sank on the night of June 13 to 14, 2023, carrying more than 750 people mostly Pakistanis, according to the United Nations. Only 82 bodies were found.

Nine suspects -- who were among the 104 survivors -- had faced charges including negligent homicide, participating in a criminal organisation and facilitating illegal entry into the country.

The men, aged 21 to 37 years old, have spent the past 11 months in pre-trial detention and would have faced life imprisonment if convicted.

The defence team argued that a Greek court cannot try the case as the accident occurred in international waters.

The state prosecutor accepted the defence argument earlier on Tuesday, leading the court to drop the charges against the men.

"The court accepts the argument of the prosecution and states that the nine accused are acquitted," the court in Kalamata, southwestern Greece said.

As the decision was announced, some family members of the suspects embraced and broke down in tears.

"I sold all my property for this trip," one of the accused told the court on Tuesday.

"I don't know why I am in prison. I want to see my family," he said, adding that he had lost a relative in the shipwreck.

"I was in hospital after surviving the shipwreck with difficulty, and I find myself accused. I don't know why," another of the suspects told the court.

Their lawyers say the men had been scapegoated to obscure the responsibilities of the Greek coastguard, which failed to mount an effective rescue operation.

- Procedural violations claimed -

The defence team also argued that major procedural errors were committed in the investigation that led to the trial.

They say their clients were arrested barely 24 hours after surviving the sinking, and on the basis of just nine testimonies, some of which were not properly translated.

The lawyers say some of the suspects were still receiving medical treatment when they were arrested.

Some survivors subsequently claimed to have come under pressure from Greek police to point out suspects, based on blurry photographs, the defence says.

The sinking of the Adriana 47 nautical miles (87 kilometres) off the coast of Pylos has left many unanswered questions as to whether the tragedy could have been averted.

The boat had set sail from Libya and was heading for Italy. In addition to Syrians and Palestinians, it was carrying nearly 350 Pakistanis, according to the Pakistani government.

Ahead of the trial, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that a parallel investigation into the Greek authorities' actions was still at a preliminary stage -- meaning the court will have incomplete information in assessing the culpability of the defendants.

"There's a real risk that these nine survivors could be found 'guilty' on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence," Judith Sunderland, HRW associate Europe and Central Asia director said in a statement.

"Credible and meaningful accountability for one of the worst shipwrecks in the Mediterranean needs to include a determination of any liabilities of Greek authorities," she added.

The NGO Alarm Phone and the EU's border agency Frontex had both reported the trawler's presence to Greek authorities while it was in the Greek search and rescue zone.

Survivors have also said the coastguard was towing the vessel when it capsized.

Anti-fascist and leftist groups earlier staging a protest outside the courthouse to denounce Europe's migration policies.

Before the start of the trial, there was a skirmish between riot police and the protesters, with two people hurt. At least three protesters were detained, according to police.

- 'Refused help' -

The coastguard has from the start insisted that it communicated with people on board who "refused any help".

An investigation by a naval court into the possible responsibilities of the coastguards is underway. But requests for access to the file have all been refused, the defence lawyers said.

In September, around fifty survivors filed a group lawsuit against the coastguard.

For migrant rights proponents, the trial was part of a longstanding practise of criminalising asylum seekers.

According to the NGO Borderline Europe, Greek prisons hold around 2,000 migrants accused of being smugglers, constituting the second largest group in Greece's prison population.


AFP


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