Aid workers accused of spying go on trial in Greece

Two dozen aid workers affiliated with the Emergency Response Center International are set to go on trial over their role in helping migrants reach Greece between 2016 and 2018.

The defendants face a raft of charges, including espionage, forgery and the unlawful use of radio frequencies amid calls from rights groups urging authorities to drop the charges of spying and disclosing state secrets.

Human rights groups have condemned the trial as being politically motivated with Amnesty International branding the charges as "farcical" and Human Rights Watch claioming that the trial is intended to intimidate other aid workers from carrying out their work.

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The trial is set to be held on Lesbos, the island at the centre of the migration crisis, and could see aid workers facing sentences of up to 25-years in prison.

Irish-German Sean Binder stands at the yard of a court before his trial in Mytilene port, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece,

Prosecutors allege that the aid workers monitored the Greek Coast Guard's radio channels and used a vehicle with a fake military licence plates to enter restricted areas on Lesbos.

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If found guilty they could face five-year prison sentences.

Some also remain under investigation for a number of other felonies, including human smuggling, and if convicted could face further sentences of up to 25-years.

Activists linked to a migrant search-and-rescue group will be tried in court, facing espionage and other felony charges. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

17 of the 24 on trial are foreign nationals with Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini, the sister of the Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini facing charges.

Mardini and another volunteer, Sean Binder and Irish aid worker who also faces trial, were arrested in 2018 and spent 107 days in Athens's maximum security prison in pre-trial detention.

Both left the country when they were released, with Ms Mardini, who has been granted asylum in Germany, banned from entering Greece and will instead watch the trial from Germany,

Sean Binder told the Irish broadcaster RTÉ: "I am happy to defend myself, I know I did nothing wrong, and we can prove that.

"I'm being charged with crimes that I am supposed to have committed a year before I was ever on the island.”

Nils Muižnieks, Director of Amnesty International's European Regional Office, said: "The charges they face are farcical and should never have come to trial".

"This emblematic case demonstrates how far the Greek authorities will go to deter people from helping refugees and migrants. Stopping rescue operations doesn't stop people from making dangerous journeys, it simply makes those journeys more perilous.