Don’t let the 9 Egyptian survivors become the ‘scapegoats’ for the Pylos crime (Initiative’s announcement ahead of the 21/5/2024 trial)

Don’t let the 9 Egyptian survivors become the ‘scapegoats’ for the Pylos crime (Initiative’s announcement ahead of the 21/5/2024 trial. Issued: 29/4/2024)

On 21 May 2024, the trial of the 9 Egyptians who were rescued from the catastrophic shipwreck on 14 June 2023 off the coast of Pylos, is set to start at the Three-Member Felony Appeals Court of Kalamata. Following their rescue, these individuals found themselves being accused of being ‘the smugglers’. They have since remained in custody, facing criminal charges of provoking a shipwreck, smuggling migrants, forming a criminal organization, and illegal entry.

As the Initiative of Lawyers and Jurists for the Pylos Shipwreck, we closely monitor this case, with great concern and reasonable apprehension. The criminal charges against these people are not supported by the facts. Prevailing biases threaten the impartial assessment of the evidence, and the identification of the actual causes and real culprits of this tragedy.

Assigning the blame for ‘provoking a shipwreck’ to individuals, who themselves were refugees and migrants, but whom public figures identified as being responsible for the loss of over 600 human lives, distorts the judicial process. It suggests an attempt to shield the Greek authorities that were responsible for rescuing those aboard; who despite having been informed for at least 15 hours about the overloaded and clearly unseaworthy vessel, nonetheless failed to act in a timely manner and rescue its passengers. Published evidence points to the Hellenic Coast Guard’s responsibility for the shipwreck, both for failing to take the legally required rescue actions, as well as for engaging in a towing operation, which led to the vessel’s capsizing and sinking; a fact denied by the Coast Guard but confirmed by dozens of survivors.

We note that it is common practice among the Greek authorities to label migrants (in other words individuals who, like others, board migration vessels with the sole purpose of seeking asylum in Europe) as ‘smugglers’, aiming to criminalize migration and undermine the refugee issue. This practice has led to the unjust imprisonment of thousands of refugees and migrants in Greek prisons with heavy sentences. In the present case, the lawyers of the 9 Egyptian survivors of the shipwreck have denounced serious shortcomings regarding both substantive and procedural safeguards, including the collection of testimonies, the investigation into the circumstances of the shipwreck, as well as obstacles to the exercise of their defense rights. Requests for presenting witnesses and evidence, and crucial investigative acts have not been considered in our countries to date.

As the Initiative, we highlight the risk of a fast-track trial, deflecting the responsibilities of both Greek and European authorities for the shipwreck. We highlight the risk of covering up the criminal responsibilities of the Hellenic Coast Guard, whose investigation continues to be pending to date, following a lawsuit filed by large number of survivors before the Piraeus Naval Court

As the Initiative of Lawyers and Jurists for the Pylos Shipwreck, we join our voices with those of human rights organizations, advocates, and the 9 Egyptian defendants who demand not to be turned into ‘scapegoats’ for the decades-long crime that has been taking place off the Greek shores, and which in this case resulted in the deaths of over 600 people.

We hereby announce that a delegation of our Initiative will be attending the trial as legal observers and will report on its development.

We support any initiative to publicize the trial, including a call for gathering outside the Kalamata Courthouse on 21 May 2024, at 9 am.

We demand a fair trial and a genuine, objective, independent, and exhaustive investigation into the circumstances of the shipwreck within the framework of the lawsuit filed before the Piraeus Maritime Court, in order to uncover the truth and assign responsibility to all those involved in the incident from any position and with any capacity.