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Suspicions of Dutch aid worker in Greek trial weakened: ‘This leaves doubts’ | Abroad

Relief worker Pieter Wittenberg (75) can return home in Peest, Drenthe, as a free man. The judge on the Greek island of Lesbos today decided not to deal with the charge of espionage against him and 23 other aid workers, among other things.

That does not automatically mean that the Greek judiciary will no longer prosecute him. The prosecutor is still investigating more serious crimes, and can file charges until 2038. “No relief or ending, but rather a cliffhanger,” Wittenberg said to this site.

The judge on Lesvos ruled today that the collective charges were not specific enough; it was unclear exactly who the prosecutor suspected of what. Moreover, no translation was available for the seventeen non-Greeks, including Wittenberg, who was on trial at the same time as seven Greeks. As a result, a fair and transparent legal process was impossible, the judge ruled.

It was striking that the prosecutor admitted at the hearing today that he had already come to that conclusion, after the suspects had submitted a laundry list of objections to the charge during a hearing on Tuesday. The judge therefore adopted that judgment, with which the case is over. The offenses therein expire in February.

At an end

The case has therefore come to an end without the court having rendered a substantive judgment on whether or not providing assistance at sea is punishable. Witteman and the other accused have always persevered only to have carried out humanitarian work by helping refugees safely ashore who had dared to cross from Turkey to Lesvos by rubber dinghy. Whether the judge agrees with them, they will not find out, because the case is now over. In addition, the prosecution has not withdrawn the charges, something that human rights organizations, today still the United Nations, have called for.

It is also still investigating more serious crimes, such as people smuggling and money laundering. It is unclear whether Wittenberg and the others will have to answer to a court for this, but the prosecutor still has fifteen years to file a case.

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Pieter Wittenberg together with people who express their support outside the court on the Greek island of Lesbos. © REUTERS


All in all, Wittenberg finds the outcome unsatisfactory. Until 2038 there is now legal doubt about whether humanitarian work can be punishable. And until then, no colleagues can come to the beach to help people at sea. After all, they run the risk of being arrested.” And that is exactly what the Greek authorities want, human rights organizations say: to deter aid workers and therefore also refugees, so that they are less likely to get on a boat.

Only in the event of an acquittal after a substantive treatment does Wittenberg raise the flag. “Because then there is jurisprudence and everyone knows where they stand. That gives peace in the tent, and enables aid workers to do what the authorities fail to do, namely help people who are entitled to international protection.”

Since the prosecution made its first allegations in this case in 2018, no private sea rescue missions have been active on Lesvos and in the rest of Greece. At the same time, there is plenty of evidence that the Greek coastguard does not always land the refugees safely, as it should under international law, but pushes them back to Turkey with or without the use of brute force.

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