Human Rights Watch Says Greece Targeting Refugee Rights Defenders

ATHENS – While 24 people are being tried on the island of Lesbos after helping refugees trying to get into Greece,  authorities are also wrongly pressing charges against activists on the island of Kos, said Human Rights Watch (HRW.)

The group said that unfounded accusations were made against two migrants’ rights defenders, Panayote Dimitras and Tommy Olsen as what it said was a pattern of prosecuting activists working with migrants.

The two were charged with “forming or joining for profit and by profession a criminal organization with the purpose of facilitating the entry and stay of third country nationals into Greek territory.”

That was because they sent information to Greek authorities about the details and whereabouts of newly arrived migrants, so that the migrants could claim asylum in Greece after the European Union closed its borders to them.

The court also issued restrictions on Dimitras sought by the prosecution that are preventing his organization from doing its lawful work, HRW complained as the New Democracy government is trying to keep out asylum seekers.

“Both Dimitras and Olsen have spent years shedding light on human rights violations taking place at Greece’s borders and sought justice for those affected,” said Eva Cossé, Senior Greece researcher at HRW.

“Rather than address those abuses, the Greek authorities are trying to silence the messenger and intimidate those working to defend the rights of people on the move,” she said.

Greek officials said charges are being brought against people facilitating the entry of migrants and refugees, even those who saved people at sea, claiming they are essentially human traffickers and not rescuers.

The authorities should drop all charges against the two men and end the restrictions sought by the prosecution from the court on Dimitras, HRW said. He founded the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) nongovernmental group.

Olsen, based in Norway, is founder and director of the Aegean Boat Report (ABR), a Norwegian nongovernmental group founded in 2018 that monitors the attempts of asylum seekers and migrants to cross the Aegean Sea.

Dimitras was indicted for alerting authorities about the arrival of migrants on the Greek islands of Kos and Farmakonisi on July 13, 2021. At the time, Dimitras sent several emails to the Hellenic Police, the listing the migrants’ names and nationalities and informing the officials that the migrants wanted to apply for asylum, which he had been doing routinely.

The indictment alleges that Olsen “facilitated the entry and residence of third country nationals into Greek territory” in cooperation with Dimitras and also two alleged human traffickers.

The Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said that Dimitras and other human rights defenders should not be prosecuted and urged Greek authorities “to ensure that human rights defenders and journalists can work safely and freely, by providing an enabling environment for their work and publicly recognizing their important role in a democratic society.”


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