Back in the 1980s, I spent plenty of time in and out of police cars, military boats and detention centres, as a result of various demonstrations and protests with Greenpeace and the Rainbow Warrior. In a way, we were asking for it with the provocative activism that was the Greenpeace modus operandi back then. Nowadays, Greenpeace is a massive organisation that is capable of mobilising massive amounts of people and funds in order to combat climate change and tackle environmental issues on the ground. I still feel strongly that their work paved the way for the massive climate movement we see today, but it came at a significant cost to activists and their families, including Fernando Pereira who ultimately lost his life in the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985.
I was lucky, as I was only ever detained or deported and was never arrested or had to face the uncertain justice of foreign courts far from home. Thousands of activists continue to face persecution and criminalisation for their passion today worldwide.
One such activist is young Seán Binder, who grew up in Castlegregory, not far from Dingle. Some readers will recognise Seán as the brave young man and lawyer-to-be who went to the Greek island of Lesbos in 2017 to help search and rescue efforts for people fleeing from places like Syria and Afghanistan.
His friend and co-accused, Sarah Mardini, had escaped from wartorn Syria to find her way to Germany with her sister Yusra. In an incredible story, which has now been adapted for Netflix movie ‘The Swimmers’, Sarah and Yusra jumped into the Mediterranean water when their refugee boat began to take on water and they pushed, pulled and swam ashore in a journey that took over three hours. Some time later, Sarah made the incredibly courageous decision returned to Lesbos intent on helping others who found themselves in similarly precarious and life-threatening circumstances.
Together, Sean, Sarah and others worked to provide a warm welcome for some of the most vulnerable people on this earth. While they found the locals of Lesbos were receptive to their work, the powers-that-be came down hard. The humanitarian workers were arrested, put in prison for over 100 days of pre-trial detention and interrogated.
About this time last year, Sean and Sarah were due to face a Greek judge on charges of espionage, forgery and assisting a criminal organisation related to this work. Charges which human rights organisations have described as spurious and ‘trumped up’ in a deliberate attempt to discourage civil society organisations from working in Greece. The trial was postponed on a technicality and justice delayed for another year.
On January 10, they go back to Lesbos to face the judge again, and I will go too. It is vital that Irish political and civil leaders show their solidarity with Sean and his co-accused, not only to support one of our own, but to stand up for the very basic acts of humanity that they embody.
As an island nation we have seen our tragic share of shipwreck and death at sea, and we know that saving lives on the water is a fundamental tenet of the seafarer’s code, let alone international law.
In a trial motivated by political machinations and shadowy reasoning, designed to deter and to discourage, we must bring everything to bear to have this trial thrown out and the charges dropped. I invite you, dear reader, to join the campaign.
Grace O’Sullivan is the Green Party MEP for Ireland South, mother, former Greenpeace activist, and ecologist.