Why Sarah Mardini, the heroine of Netflix’s “Swimmer” risks 20 years in prison in Greece

JEMAL COUNTESS/Getty Images via AFP TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 09: Sara Mardini speaks on stage at “The Swimmers” Press Conference during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 09, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. Jemal Countess/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Jemal Countess / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)


Sarah Mardini, main character of Netflix’s “Swimmers” is facing 20 years in prison in Greece

SCREEN – Chaos and anger reigned this Tuesday, January 10 at the trial on the Greek island of Lesbos of 24 aid workers accused of “espionage”, including Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini. The defendants bear “up to 25 years in prison” for all charges, said Amnesty International.

The young woman, who was not present on the day of this hearing, was arrested in August 2018 while working as a volunteer for the NGO ERCI on the Greek island which has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians, flowing in dramatic conditions in 2015 and 2016.

Like the echoes of the story of Sarah Mardini and her sister, the Olympic swimmer Yusra, who

aroused such great interest that they were featured in films “The Swimmers” broadcast on the Netflix platform. The feature film chronicles the last ten years of Yusra and his sister Sarah, leaving their parents and younger sister in Syria to seek refuge in Germany. There, Yusra continued swimming training until qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics, then five years later for those in Tokyo as part of the Olympic refugee team.

Sarah Mardini, whose role is played by Franco-Lebanese Manal Issa, spent three months in prison in Greece before being able to return to Berlin, where she has been a refugee since 2015. She was unable to attend the opening of the trial due to a ban on entering Greece.

In an interview with the German daily Tagesspiegel At the end of 2021, the young woman had time to vent about her deep discomfort due to the legal problems that had befallen her.

“I want my life back (before). For the last three years, I have no life (…) I exist through my body. But nothing else at the moment”said the Syrian who had walked out of a Berlin university and said he was suffering from a psychological disorder.

The audience is confused

The trial, which was presented in a report by the European Parliament as “Europe’s largest case of criminalization of solidarity”, was adjourned until Friday after the first interruption in the morning due to the absence of one of the defendants and their lawyers.

The President of the Court clarified on Tuesday that was only an accusation“spying” against these aid workers will be considered while prosecutions for money laundering, migrant smuggling and fraud crimes will be considered later once the investigation is complete.

This chaotic trial has caused great dissatisfaction among the defendants and human rights NGOs since the trial was launched by the Greek courts more than four years ago.

Lawyers for the defendants on Tuesday demanded the Court to drop the charges in this first part due to procedural flaws such as a lack of translation of court documents or failure to send documents to certain defendants so they appear in court.

“The (defence) lawyers have presented convincing arguments showing why the way this trial is proceeding is unacceptable”convinced German Irishman Sean Binder, one of the main accused, who demanded a marriage proposal “Right Wing State”.

“All charges against us for either espionage or money laundering are null and void. This trial has a political purpose.added another defendant, Pieter Wittenberg from the Netherlands.

For Human Rights Watch (HWR), prosecutions began on the basis of a police report that contained factual errors “including claims that some of the accused participated in rescue operations on dates when they were not even in Greece”.

Facing a proliferation of legal proceedings against them, NGOs that rescue migrants at sea have almost all stopped their operations in Greece, a country accused of illegally turning away migrants at its sea and land borders to Turkey.

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