Freedom for the imprisoned Moria 6 – Greek state opens trial against two of the six accused after the fire in Moria 2020
Today, on 8th of March, the court of Mytilini, Lesvos, opened the trial against two young men from Afghanistan. The two arrived to Greece as unaccompanied minors, and were only 17 at the time of their arrest. They are part of the group of six people accused of ‘arson with risk to human life’, who were arrested after the events of September 8, 2020, when Moria camp burned to the ground.
The two defendants, who were arrested as minors, have by now been in pre-trial detention for nearly six months – the maximum time for pretrial detention of minors. The court mobilized several witnesses for the trial, among them the camp management, the police and residents of Moria village. Monitoring the trial is made impossible, because of heavy police presence at the court, and strict and disproportionate Covid-19 movement restrictions. Furthermore, because the defendants were minors at the time of their arrest, their trial is closed to the public.
The trial officially started today, but was immediately interrupted because one of the defendants is ill and suffering from fever. It was only postponed until tomorrow.
So far, the public prosecutor’s office has not presented any credible evidence against any of the six defendants that suggests they were at all involved in the desperate act of resistance of setting the multiple fires which ultimately destroyed the inhumane European Hotspot, Moria camp. However, it seems the authorities are intent on scapegoating the Moria 6 for Europe’s deadly border violence.
There is only one witness against all 6 of the defendants – one of the then Afghan community leaders in Moria Camp. It has been a common practice of the police in Lesvos to coerce community leaders into providing information, through threats of arrest, or in exchange for advantages such as being allowed to leave the island. The 6 defendants are all part of the Hazara Shia minority, which has historically been subjected to violent persecution and systematic discrimination by both Tajic and Pashtu Sunni majorities, along class, race, and religious lines. The only witness against them is Pashtu.
Five of the accused were minors at the time of their arrest, and the sixth was only 18. However, three of the five minors had been unlawfully registered as adults when they arrived in Greece. These three presented original national identification documents to the court following their arrest, showing their actual age, and requested age assessments by medical professionals. Despite this, the documents were rejected as fraudulent, the state medical examiner assessed them as adults, and they continue to be treated as adults by the Greek state.
The two defendants facing trial tomorrow are the two who were recognised as minors at the time of their arrest.
It is likely that the facts will not matter in court. The Greek state is determined to find someone guilty for burning down Europe’s pilot project of the “hot spot” model of detention, confinement on the islands in hellish conditions, and deterence. State authorities had already determined their guilt long before any trial took place. Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, in an interview with CNN on 16 September 2020, stated “the camp was burned by six Afghani refugees who have been arrested.” In response to a question about the welfare of unaccompanied minors made homeless by the fire, Mitarakis responded by saying that two minors had been arrested alongside four others according to police footage for causing the fire and that “the reason they caused the fire was to blackmail the Greek and other governments to move them out of Moria.”
In September 2020, pictures of the burning camp were circulated in international media, drawing attention once again to the cruel and inhuman treatment people are subject to in Greek’s refugee camps. The fire became a symbol of people’s resistance to this treatment and confinement. It not only brought to light the cruelty of the European border regime but also exposed the Greek state’s disastrous failure to provide protection to migrants, as well as its failure to fulfill its role as “shield of Europe” that the EU Commissioner had assigned to Greece in March 2020.
Over the years, numerous criminal prosecutions in Lesvos have shown that the Greek state will crush any resistance to Europe’s border regime through collective punishment, using the police and courts to arbitrarily arrest, then convict and sentence migrants to long prison sentences, without any evidence, following any protest against state opression. For example, in the summer of 2017, the Moria 35 were violently and arbitrarily arrested on the basis of racial profiling after months of escalating protests and collective organising in Mytilene and inside Moria camp. In their trial, held nine months later in the Mixed Jury Court of Chios, 32 of the 35 were found guilty of causing dangerous bodily harm and given a 26-month suspended prison sentence. In a similar case of the Moria 8, those arbitrarily arrested following a fire in Moria, were eventually acquitted, but 1 of the 8 had previously been held in pre-trial detention for months.
We will not accept that the lives of six young people will be destroyed! We will not let the state and media treat them as scapegoats for the brutality and cruelty of the European border policies of confinement! We demand freedom for all imprisoned and accused!
Solidarity with the Moria 6! Your struggle is our struggle!