Trial under way in Greece over Pylos shipwreck that killed more than 500

Rights groups argue the nine Egyptian defendants’ right to a fair trial has been compromised by ‘incomplete’ evidence.

Survivors of the deadly shipwreck, Zahid Akbar, 21, and Inzimam Maqbool, 22, along with relatives, lawyers and supporters, participate in a protest calling for justice, ahead of the trial, in Athens, Greece, on May 20, 2024 [Louisa Gouliamaki/Reuters]Published On 21 May 202421 May 2024

Nine Egyptian men have gone on trial in southern Greece accused of causing the Pylos shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants and refugees.

International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgement before an investigation is concluded into claims the Hellenic Coast Guard may have botched the rescue attempt.

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On Tuesday, a small group of protesters clashed with riot police as the proceedings got under way at a court in Kalamata, southern Greece.

The defendants, most of whom are in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the Adriana fishing trawler on June 14, 2023.

As many as 750 people on board the trawler, which was travelling from Libya to Italy, and more than 550 people are believed to have died, according to rights groups and independent investigators.

Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued – mostly from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt – and 82 bodies were recovered.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the shipwreck off the southern coast of Greece as “horrific”.

Police clash with protesters outside the court in Kalamata, Greece, on May 21, 2024 [Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo]

Allegations against Hellenic Coast Guard

Lawyers from Greek human rights groups represent the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.

“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ based on incomplete and questionable evidence given that the official investigation into the role of the coastguard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors, and the indictments are based on their testimonies.

Survivor testimonies provided to Al Jazeera pin the blame on the Greek coastguard, which attempted to tow the vessel, causing it to flip over, saying that it did not sufficiently act to save the lives of those in the water.

The Hellenic Coast Guard has denied these allegations.

Paramedics of the Greek National Emergency Ambulance Service (EKAV) and members of the Greek Red Cross help migrants upon arrival at Kalamata’s port [File: Bougiotis Evangelos/EPA-EFE]

Sunderland posted on X that “it’s really important to remember that justice will only be done via a full and transparent accounting of the responsibilities of the Greek authorities”.

A joint Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report, based on testimonies from representatives of the Hellenic Coast Guard, the Greek police, and nongovernmental organisations, also concluded that the coastguard did not properly respond to distress calls.

An investigation in Greece’s naval court into the Hellenic Coast Guard’s role in the shipwreck has yet to be concluded.

“The Pylos 9 defendants were unjustly arrested and charged with smuggling offences based on limited and questionable evidence,” Marion Bouchetel, a member of Legal Centre Lesvos, which is defending the accused, told Al Jazeera.

“Our argument, following the testimonies of the survivors, is that these nine people are not responsible for the sinking at the very least. The coastguard is responsible for the sinking,” Stefanos Levidis, one of the lead researchers in an investigation into the shipwreck, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies