Sara Mardini, Sister of Olympic Swimmer, Facing Charges in Greece

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Photo Courtesy: Kelly Lennon

Sara Mardini, Sister of Olympic Swimmer, Facing Charges in Greece

Sara Mardini, the Syrian refugee who fled to Greece with her sister and Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, is among 24 humanitarian aid works in Greece who face criminal charges for assisting people on the island of Lesbos.

The trial began on Thursday. Mardini and the other are part of the non-governmental organization, the Emergency Response Center International (ERCI), that operated from 2016-18 on the Greek island. They face up to 25 years in prison for charges of state secret espionage, smuggling and money laundering.

Amnesty International has decried the charges as “unfair and baseless.”

Mardini gained international fame along with her sister Yusra, when the two youth swimmers from Darayya helped swim to safety a stricken dingy in the Aegean Sea. The duo swam for some three hours before reaching Lesbos in 2015, saving a boat made for six to seven occupants that was loaded with 18. Yusra Mardini settled in Germany, and she competed for the Refugee Olympic Team at both the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Their journey from Syria to Europe is being turned into a movie called, “The Swimmers.”

Sara Mardini returned to Lesbos in 2018. She and an Irish rescue diver, Sean Binder, volunteered to help save immigrants attempting the dangerous passage through the Mediterranean. They were detained for 100 days in late 2018. Mardini discussed her ordeal with Middle East Eye.

The charges have been criticized as motivated by animus against refuges and asylum seekers. Journalists are also being kept away from the trial.

“The Greek authorities’ misuse of the criminal justice system to harass these humanitarian rescuers seems designed to deter future rescue efforts, which will only put lives at risk,” Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. “The slipshod investigation and absurd charges, including espionage, against people engaged in life-saving work reeks of politically motivated prosecution.”

A lawyer for Mardini and Binder has submitted what he called, “solid evidence,” of ERCI’s communication with port police.

“This is the way that they chose three years ago in order to send away humanitarians and NGOs from the islands and they achieved it,” the lawyer, Zacharias Kesses, said. “This case was very high profile as the first time that volunteers were imprisoned [and] because of this many other volunteers left the islands frightened that they would have the same result.”

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