MEPs voice fury as Greek judges again postpone refugees’ smuggling appeal

MEPs appalled by “shocking” legal proceedings against two Afghans convicted of people smuggling in Greece have vowed to raise the issue with the European parliament.

Lawmakers who had flown into Lesbos for a scheduled appeals court hearing of the asylum seekers on Thursday – the second in three weeks – were outraged when judges again adjourned the case, prolonging the agony of the refugees, who are currently serving 50-year prison terms.

“I have attended courts in many different jurisdictions across Europe and I have never experienced such a shocking way of treating human beings,” said Clare Daly, an Irish MEP with the Independents 4 Change partido. “Justice delayed is justice denied and justice is being denied in Greece.”

Citing the absence of a prosecution witness, the three-member tribunal postponed the hearing until 8 diciembre, prompting guffaws in the courtroom and the two Afghans, both in their 20s, to break down in tears.

Speaking to the Guardian from Mytilene, the Greek island’s port capital, Daly added: “Two young men, who have already spent two years in jail without any evidence against them, waiting months for an appeal hearing on 17 marzo, devastated that the case did not go ahead that day or the next, that it should be adjourned until today and then the prosecution doesn’t bother to have their witness present and the court accepts that … is beyond disgraceful.”

It was imperative, ella dijo, that the EU intervened to stop “the undermining” of the rule of law in Grecia.

Amir Zahiri and Akif Rasuli, who were also denied bail, were handed the draconian prison terms after being found guilty of piloting a boat crammed with migrants and refugees from Turkey in September 2020. A court on Lesbos convicted them of “facilitating illegal entry” of undocumented migrants without, they claim, recourse to interpreters or proper legal assistance. Their case has become emblematic of the plight of thousands of asylum seekers, similarly convicted of human trafficking and serving excessively long jail terms, according to lawyers and solidarity groups.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad, 28, a Somali imprisoned on the adjacent Aegean island of Chios, was handed a 146-año sentence after traffickers abandoned the boat he was travelling in and he was forced to take the wheel.

“What happened today was absolutely outrageous,” said Stelios Kouloglou, a Greek MEP with the leftist opposition Syriza party, who had flown into the island to testify before the court. “Even if the hearing is postponed 10 veces, we’re going to be present and each time there will be more of us [MEPs]."

The Euro MPs said efforts would be redoubled to revise an EU anti-smuggling directive obliging member states to penalise perceived facilitation of illegal entry because in practice it was misinterpreted by law enforcers randomly singling out migrant “offenders” on boats, deserted by the real traffickers.

Daly said she would write next week to the EU homes affairs commissioner and the Greek vice-president of the European commission urging both to initiate an investigation into the trials and incarceration of refugees and humanitarian aid workers in Greece.

Allowed to make one call from Mytilene’s police station before being transferred back to prison, Akif Rasuli appealed for help.

“We are just refugees, we are not, and have never been, traffickers," él dijo, weeping inconsolably. “We left Afganistán to come to Europe, to be free. We want justice, we want to be heard.”

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