HIAS Greece Helps Secure Legal Victory for Refugees


Levani Talakhadze, HIAS Greece (Athens)
levani.talakhadze@hias.org; + (30) 6994-320-730

Sara Koenig, West End Strategy Team (in New York)
skoenig@westendstrategy.com; +1 917-420-0303  


108 Refugees Acquitted of Criminal Charges in 2018 Sappho Square Protest
HIAS Greece secures legal victory, continues to advocate against criminalization of protests

Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece – May 9th, 2019 – More than 100 refugees, as well as two Greek nationals, facing criminal charges for peacefully protesting conditions at the Moria refugee camp were acquitted by the Misdemeanors Court of Mytilene last week. The refugees, including many children, were attacked while gathering in Mytilene’s Sappho Square in April 2018 and then charged with occupying public property, revolting with physical force, and resisting arrest.  

The Sappho Square gathering was sparked by the death of an Afghan refugee at the Moria refugee camp, the largest in Greece, where overcrowding, a lack of medical services, limited access to food and water, and a mental health crisis are well-documented. As they protested conditions at the camp, the refugees were attacked by a group of right-wing activists. The police, attempted to disband the protestors and eventually detained 108 refugees, including 12 minors, as well as two Greek citizens. On April 23, 2018, criminal charges were brought against the detainees.

HIAS Greece represented 33 defendants in the criminal proceedings. “This decision of the Three-Member Misdemeanors Court of Mytilene is the only reasonable outcome this case could have had. However, this decision warrants no celebrations,” warned HIAS Greece Country Director Vassilis Kerasiotis. “The mere fact that 110 peaceful protestors were tried in a court of justice, after suffering a racist attack and disproportionate use of violence by the police, is deeply concerning. From the use of violence for disbandment of a peaceful protest to the criminal prosecution of the participants, all the decisions of the authorities pertaining to the case point toward criminalization of protest – a phenomenon wider than this particular case and therefore all the more worrisome. The Greek Constitution guarantees the right to protest to everyone present inside the jurisdiction of the Greek state and the competent authorities have the obligation to defend it for everyone, regardless of their citizenship or migration status.”


HIAS is the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees—including women and children, and ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities—whose lives are in danger for being who they are. Guided by our values and history, HIAS helps refugees rebuild their lives in safety and advocates to ensure that all displaced people are treated with dignity. More info at @HIASrefugees, Facebook and hias.org.

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