Following direct testimony by Cornelia Ernst, Member of the European Parliament, about a pushback underway in Samos, Notis Mitarachi makes a denial and announces investigations by the authorities of Dimitris Choulis, a human rights lawyer and a consultant for Still I Rise.

The Greek government’s criminalization of those who defend the human rights of asylum seekers continues. Now in the crosshairs of Notis Mitarachi, the Minister of Asylum and Immigration, is “the privileged information of local lawyers” that “must be investigated by the authorities”, as he wrote on Twitter. There is no question that the target of his accusation is Dimitris Choulis, a lawyer and a consultant for Still I Rise, guilty of having alerted the MEP Cornelia Ernst of a landing and therefore a risk of a pushback in Samos last November 3rd.

Ernst was visiting the island with a delegation of the LIBE Commission when she heard about the pushback. She joined a group from Doctors without Borders and the lawyer Choulis on an excursion to woodland where they found five people of Somali origin hiding for fear of the police. The migrants said that they had come by boat with 19 other people, including women and three children, with whom they had lost all contact because they had likely already been pushed back to Turkey.

“There were at least 4 police cars in different locations on the site, two identified and two non-identified on the site next to a monastery high up in the mountains. Some police officers had uniforms, some not. It was unclear whether they were also trying to locate the people or surveilling us. A bit further an empty unidentified car was standing, we later found out that the car must belong to the two men we saw on site who had a blue uniform, balaclava masks and no insignia,” Cornelia Ernst wrote on Twitter. “It is clear for me that by finding them and handing them over physically to the Greek police a potential pushback was prevented. I have read too many well-documented reports of pushbacks to believe that they would have been able to ask for asylum if we had not been there.”

Cornelia Ernst also said that she briefed the delegation on what she saw. However, during the delegation’s press conference, when asked directly, LIBE Commission President Juan Fernando López Aguilar stated that the delegation did not witness any illegal pushbacks. Then came Minister Mitarachi’s attack: “Hard denial today on the front page of @efsyntakton. Yesterday’s incident in Samos and the ‘inside information’ of local lawyers must be investigated by the authorities.”

“The Minister said that I had privileged information for the arrival. That necessarily means that the number of people in the arrival was 24 and not 5”, replies Dimitris Choulis. “So let’s investigate how I had the information, which is easy to explain since my phone number is shared among the refugee community on Samos, who is encouraged to call to denounce any human rights violation. So let’s investigate where are the other 19 missing people from that boat. I’m willing to explain to any authority how a lawyer works, and I will be hestatic to hear how the disappearance of people works”.

Dimitris Choulis, born and raised on Samos, is the one lawyer who has chosen to step up and fight for the rule of law on his island. Over the past year he has been working personally to prevent pushbacks and secure a legal way for people to register their asylum claim. He has repeatedly defended asylum seekers criminalized by the authorities and has always taken a personal stand in calling out the authorities for their conduct.

“Dimitris Choulis has been by Still I Rise’s side since its inception: in 2018, he was the only lawyer on the island who helped our organization with the registration process in Greece. Subsequently, he supported and presented to the Prosecutor’s Office of Samos with Still I Rise’s criminal complaint against the hotspot manager for the human rights violations against unaccompanied minors. And it is Dimitris Choulis who represents us whenever the authorities attack for ulterior motives,” says Giulia Cicoli, Still I Rise’s Advocacy Director.

“In retaliation for his work in defence of human rights, he is constantly attacked on social media and Greek newspapers. Now, there are even threats of criminal investigations against him by the Minister of Immigration. We cannot allow this: enough is enough! The European Commission has had two years and an ever-mounting pile of evidence to carry out a serious investigation into the illegal pushbacks. Now there is also the direct eyewitness testimony of an MEP. What else is needed for us to say ‘enough’ to all this?”

LEARN MORE ON THE ONGOING CAMPAIGNS AGAINST THE CRIMINALISATION OF ASYLUM SEEKERS AND HUMANITARIAN WORKERS IN GREECE

#FREETHESAMOS2 CAMPAIGN. After a shipwreck, survivor faces more than 230 years for “boat driving” and father charged with the death of his 6-year-old child. Dimitris Choulis is their lawyer.

Read the press release to defend N. and Hasan:

https://www.stillirisengo.org/site/assets/files/1290/statement_eng.pdf

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m0NKWzWAH0

Share the petition launched on Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/appeals-court-of-aegean-drop-the-charges

#DROPTHECHARGES – FREE HUMANITARIANS CAMPAIGN. A trial against three humanitarian workers for rescuing people in the Aegean Sea begins on 18th of November. Sarah Mardini, Seán Binder and Nassos Karakitsos face a 25 years-long sentence for preventing deaths and providing aid to people in distress. According to the prosecutor’s description of events, saving people from drowning is a crime if they do not have a Western passport.

Share the petition launched on Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/greek-minister-for-justice-dropthecharges-free-humanitarians