Irishman accused of people smuggling in Greece says he was simply trying to save people from drowning

27-year-old Seán Binder, a German citizen who grew up in Castlegregory, County Kerry, was arrested on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2018 while working as a volunteer for an NGO that assisted refugees and migrants. After spending 106 days in prison in Greece he was granted bail to leave the country pending trial.

Binder, who is a law student, is now due to stand trial, along with 22 other people on Thursday. He faces a number of serious charges, including people smuggling, membership of a criminal organisation and espionage – and now faces a possible prison sentence of 25 years.

Speaking to Radio Kerry on Monday, he said he said he is “terrified” at the prospect of a long-term jail sentence – but would do it all again if he had to.

Facing 25 years in prison, yeah, that’s half my life,” he said. “That will be half my life spent in prison – that is terrifying. I am worried but at the same time, I would still do it again because there is nothing wrong with it. I mean, what would you do? If you see someone drowning in the sea? If, like me, you would reach an arm out and try to help, then you have committed the same supposed crime that I have committed. We should never accept that that could be criminalizable.”

Thursday’s trial will focus on charges relating to the accusations of espionage and the unlawful use of radio frequencies – based on accusations the NGO monitored coastguard radio channels in a bid to find migrants out on the water. Mr Binder’s lawyers have labelled the charges ‘extraordinary’ given the information being shared was publicly available at the time.

Police investigations into the other more serious charges are ongoing. Human rights groups have labelled the case ‘farcical’, with legal experts suggesting they are more aimed at deterring human rights volunteers than serving justice.

A petition calling for the charges to be dropped has now gathered more than 16,000 signatures.



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