x

Society

Greek Judge Dismisses Case Against 9 Egyptians Accused of Causing a Deadly Shipwreck

KALAMATA, Greece (AP) — A Greek judge dismissed a case Tuesday against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations, after a prosecutor told the court Greece lacked jurisdiction.

The decision by Presiding Judge Eftichia Kontaratou came shortly after the trial opened in the southern Greek city of Kalamata, and was greeted with cheers and applause from supporters of the defendants at the courthouse.

More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the overcrowded fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Only 104 people were rescued from the Adriana — all men, the vast majority from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered.

Prosecutors accused the defendants, most in their 20s, of being part of the trawler’s crew — something the defense denied — and therefore being responsible for the mistreatment of the passengers and the massively overcrowded conditions which authorities argued led to the boat capsizing and sinking on June 14 last year. The nine men faced up to life in prison had they been convicted of the multiple criminal charges against them, including people smuggling and causing a deadly shipwreck.

Police clash with protesters outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The judge’s ruling followed a recommendation by public prosecutor Ekaterini Tsironi for the case to be dismissed because the trawler sank outside Greek territorial waters.

“Clearly the shipwreck clearly occurred in international waters and … the jurisdiction of the Greek courts cannot be established,” she said. “I propose that they be declared innocent.”

The case had faced criticism from international human rights groups, who argued that the defendants’ right to a fair trial was compromised because they faced judgment while a separate Naval Court investigation into the sinking and the Greek coast guard’s actions is still under way.

Spyros Pantazis, one of the lawyers in the defense team, said the court had “delivered justice today.”

“This case needed a lot of work and a lot of effort. After such a long time, the whole defense team is really happy,” he said.

One of nine Egyptians, who was on trial for migrant smuggling, waves to the media persons as he leaves the court in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. A Greek judge dismissed charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations, after a prosecutor told the court Greece lacked jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

It was not immediately clear when the nine, who have been in pre-trial detention since being rescued last year, would be released. After the verdict was read, they were taken away to be processed.

Dalia Abdel-Magid, the aunt defendant Mohammed Emad Abdel-Magid, reacted emotionally to the news that her nephew had been acquitted.

“I’m so happy that I just want to hug him and take him with me,” she said. “I hope that everything gets better for him now.”

Earlier, a small group of protesters clashed with riot police outside the courthouse. There were no reports of serious injuries but two people were detained. Officers from the special police forces maintained order in the courtroom.

“Justice prevailed. These people stayed in jail for a year even though they were innocent, and this must not happen again,” said Stelios Kouloglou, a Greek member of the European Parliament. “There are 2,000 innocent people in Greek jails, accused of or convicted of smuggling. The vast majority are innocent.”

As the trial started, Kontaratou questioned all nine defendants through an interpreter. The accused said their intention had been to travel to Italy, not Greece, and several declared their innocence.

She acknowledged that on the ship there “were no Greeks on board, it was not under a Greek flag and all the documents refer to the (vessel being) 47 nautical miles away.”

Two of nine Egyptians, who were on trial for migrant smuggling, wave to the media persons as they leave the court in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. A Greek judge dismissed charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations, after a prosecutor told the court Greece lacked jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year described the shipwreck as “horrific.”

The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise every year.

The indictments against the nine were based on testimonies from another nine survivors. Defense lawyers had argued the witness testimonies had been coerced, and that their clients had been paying passengers who were scapegoated by authorities eager to put the blame for the sinking on overcrowded conditions.

Several survivors have said the capsizing happened after the Greek coast guard attempted to tow the ship. The exact circumstances of the sinking remain unclear.

The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.

___
By DEREK GATOPOULOS Associated Press

RELATED

ATHENS, Greece  — Greece on Monday accused neighboring North Macedonia’s new center-right government of breaking a historic deal on the country’s name, warning that this could harm its hopes of one day joining the European Union.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

It’s Not as World-Famous as Ramen or Sushi. But the Humble Onigiri is Soul Food in Japan

TOKYO (AP) — The word “onigiri” became part of the Oxford English Dictionary this year, proof that the humble sticky-rice ball and mainstay of Japanese food has entered the global lexicon.

NEW JERSEY – The Hellenic Federation of New Jersey held its 11th Annual Awards Gala on June 23 at the Greek-owned catering hall The Graycliff.

LEIPZIG, Germany  — Italy substitute Mattia Zaccagni scored in the last minute of stoppage time for Italy to advance to the knockout stage of the European Championship after drawing Croatia 1-1 on Monday.

DUESSELDORF, Germany  — Spain changed almost its entire lineup and still kept up its victorious start to the European Championship with a 1-0 win over Albania, which was eliminated on Monday.

ATHENS, Greece  — Greece on Monday accused neighboring North Macedonia’s new center-right government of breaking a historic deal on the country’s name, warning that this could harm its hopes of one day joining the European Union.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.