‘Worst still ahead’ for Irish aid worker Seán Binder as he faces more serious charges

Irish aid worker Seán Binder fears the “worst is still ahead of him” after a court on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday dropped espionage charges against him and 23 others — in a trial denounced by human rights groups as a sham.

r Binder and the other aid volunteers are still facing federal charges on far more serious crimes, including facilitating the illegal entry of people, being part of a criminal organisation and money laundering.

These offences attach a jail sentence of 25 years if convicted and prosecutors have another 15 years to investigate the Kerryman for these offences.

“I’ve mixed feelings. I am glad to not be in prison of course but I am still left with bittersweet feelings. We wanted the trial to go ahead, to prove in court how ridiculous the espionage charge was,” he told the Sunday Independent from Lesbos on Friday.

“But this is just the entrée for the prosecution. The major felony charges have not been dropped. They have another 15 years to investigate us for that. What we face now is difficulty keeping the momentum of our campaign going. This is a step in the right direction, but the worst is still ahead of us.”

Mr Binder said what he wanted was an immediate trial so that he could answer all the felony charges and clear his name – rather than facing several more years of protracted legal wranglings.

“I want a trial, absolutely, and as soon as possible, because we have nothing to hide. If we had a trial, we would win and prove that this has been a farce.

“If the prosecution truly thought we were guilty of these serious charges, we would already be in prison. We are just asking for a fair and swift trial. They have already been investigating us for four years and no trial. There has been no fairness in this procedure.”

The charges have been condemned as “farcical” by Amnesty International and attacked by Human Rights Watch, Front Line Defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders and many others.

He said this weekend that his life remains on hold as he prepares to return to London and work in the field of law.

Mr Binder, of Castlegregory, Co Kerry, is one of 24 people charged in connection with their humanitarian work. He denies all charges.

He was volunteering as a rescue diver for Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a Greek NGO, when he was arrested. “We were trying to help people who were drowning. That is not illegal. In fact, it’s a legal requirement of maritime law,” he added.

He spent more than 100 days in a Greek prison before being released on bail in December 2018 following a campaign by his family, friends and human rights organisations.

Mr Binder described his time in prison as “harrowing”, but said it could have been a lot worse.​

He was volunteering for ERCI for a year before his arrest. “A lot of what I did was handing out blankets,” he said. “We ran clinics and helped people who arrived. There were incidents where we had to pull people out of the water and provide life-saving care.

“I did see little babies hanging on to plastic water bottles in the hope it would provide buoyancy. And people in fake life jackets who couldn’t swim. These are the things that smugglers do to people.

“I probably came into contact with 10,000 people, either in the clinic or at the shoreline.”

More than 60 MEPs have written an open letter in support of Mr Binder and his co-defendants.

Grace O’Sullivan, the Green Party MEP for Ireland South, said the charges should be dropped.

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