The « Moria 35 » trial on the Greek island of Chios: between iniquity and instrumentalisation of justice against exiles

On 28 April 2018, 32 of the 35 migrants prosecuted for arson, rebellion, damage to property, attempted violence and disturbance of public order, received 26-month suspended prison sentences from the court of Chios (Greece) after a four-day trial tainted by many irregularities. They were found guilty of injuring police officers, and were acquitted of all other charges.

Prior to this sentence, the 32 convicted persons spent nine long months in pre-trial detention based on a very questionable decision that referred to unproven acts. The 35 people accused had been arrested in July 2017, following a peaceful demonstration during which several hundred exiles stranded in the hotspot of Moria, on the island of Lesbos, denounced their undignified and inhuman living conditions. They all denied committing the offenses they were accused of. Some even proved that they did not participate in the demonstration.

The members of the delegation of international observers at the trial were able to confirm serious violations of the right to a fair trial: incomplete interpretation, lack of impartiality of the judges, limited time granted to the defence and, above all, lack of evidence of the alleged facts. By unfairly condemning the exiles from Moria, the Chios court has taken over from the Greek government - which has confined thousands of people in the hotspots of the Aegean Sea for over two years - and from the European Union (EU) which finances Greece for its role as border guard of Europe.

After leaving detention, the “Moria 35” are still not free. They find themselves assigned to the hotspot on Lesbos, and forbidden to leave the island until their asylum applications have been processed. Yet, the Greek State Council had decided on 17 April 2018 to lift such geographical restrictions on asylum seekers’ freedom to come and go, on the ground that they were illegal and discriminatory. But the Greek government saw things differently and it immediately issued a decree restoring the restrictions, thus cancelling out the decision of the Greek State Council.

The asylum application of most of these 35 people is still under review, or on appeal against the decision to deny refugee status. In defiance of basic standards, some did not have access to legal assistance to appeal this decision. Two of them were expelled to Turkey in June 2018 (considered a "safe country" by Greece), under the EU-Turkey agreement concluded on 16 March 2016.