Dutch rescue worker among 24 on trial in Greece for people smuggling
Dutch rescue worker Pieter Wittenberg is on trial in Greece with 23 co-suspects on Tuesday. Wittenberg and the other rescue workers are suspected of people smuggling, espionage, and revealing state secrets, among other things. The rescue workers argue that all they did was save human lives by rescuing asylum seekers from the sea in 2018.
Wittenberg (75) is on Lesbos to attend his trial. He and the other aid workers risk fines and prison sentences of several years. One of the suspects is 28-year-old Sara Mardini from Syria, who rescued people from the sea together with German-Irish diver Sean Binder. The two were arrested in 2018 and detained for over 100 days. During that period, Wittenberg worked as a skipper on a rescue boat. The film The Swimmers, released last year, is about Mardini and her sister.
The trial will happen on the Greek island of Lesbos. There are two different procedures, one for minor offenses - that case starts on Tuesday - and one for more severe accusations like people smuggling. That investigation is still ongoing. There is still a lot of uncertainty about precisely what will happen today. The substantive treatment of the case may start, but the trial could also be postponed again. The trial was initially scheduled to begin in November 2021 but was delayed because the court lacked jurisdiction.
Amnesty International and other organizations have advocated for the accused rescue workers for years. They called on the Greek authorities to drop the case. According to a spokesperson for Amnesty International, this lawsuit “criminalizes solidarity.” Human Rights Watch previously spoke of a “politically motivated” process designed to intimidate other aid workers.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times