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Homayoun sabetara's appeal hearing postponed: 5 more months of waiting in prison

[Thessaloniki, 24 April, 2024] Homayoun Sabetara's appeal hearing started yesterday at the Court of Thessaloniki. As the court failed to summon the sole prosecution witness, the hearing was postponed to 24/09/2024. Having already waited 576 days for his appeal hearing, Homayoun will have to spend 5 more months in prison, until his next hearing. 

Homayoun hugging his daughters after the Court's decision, illustration by Adrian Pourviseh


Homayoun Sabetara, a migrant fleeing Iran was arrested in August 2021, after Greek authorities stopped the car he was driving in Thessaloniki. He was subsequently charged with alleged smuggling and sentenced to 18-years in prison, his conviction being primarily based on the written testimony of a witness who never appeared in court. Homayoun has been incarcerated in Greece ever since.

Yesterday, Tuesday 23rd of April 2024, Homayoun Sabetara’s appeal hearing took place before the Thessaloniki Court of Appeals, after 576 days wait. The trial was initially set to take place on Monday the 22nd, but was postponed due to time restrictions. During his appeal hearing, Homayoun was represented by HRLP lawyer Dimitris Choulis and independent lawyers Harris Ladis and Sofia Saripanidou.

Homayoun’s daughter and #FreeHomayoun campaign initiator, Mahtab Sabetara, was present at the courtroom on both days to support her father and testify as a defence witness. "We hope that my father's sentence will be overturned today. We will show our solidarity and demand that this unjust practice of criminalizing people seeking asylum and disappearing them in the Greek prison system needs to stop immediately", she announced ahead of her father’s appeal hearing, surrounded by Homayoun’s supporters who gathered in front of the Court of Thessaloniki to show their solidarity.

On both days, Human Rights Legal Project joined the Free Homayoun campaign, Border Violence Monitoring and ELDH Law at the court room, to monitor and report the court proceedings throughout.

Homayoun's supporters gather in front of the Court of Thessaloniki, photo: Ioanna Pamoukoglou

Trial Monitoring

  • The first witness, police officer Yiorgos Mananas who was on duty when Homayoun was arrested, was called to the stand to testify. “We did a random check to the vehicle because the defendant was driving on the wrong side of the road. […] Upon the arrest no one resisted, they did not cause any problems”, he said.

  • Mr Mananas was briefly questioned by both the defence and the Court and subsequently Mr Harris Ladis, one of Homayoun’s lawyers took the floor.

  • Mr Ladis raised the argument that the procedure in the sentencing trial was flawed, emphasizing the Court’s failure to cross-examine the prosecution witness. “The only proof we have of the defendant’s guiltiness is the testimony of an absent witness who was not cross-examined by the Court. This constitutes a violation of article 6 of the ECHR”, he stressed.→ According to article 6 of the EctHR case law -which is implemented into Greek Law- the presence of witnesses has to be examined at the pre-trial stages. If this has not been examined, these testimonies are the last resource to be considered. Therefore, according to the existing legal framework, convicting a person based on the testimony of a witness who is not present in court, breaches the standard of a fair trial.

  • On these grounds, Homayoun's legal team petitioned the Court to not read the statement in question.

  • Additionally, a second objection was raised by the defence lawyers based on Article 233 of the Greek Criminal Procedural Law. This pertains the lack of impartial interpretation being present during the initial processing of the arrest of Homayoun at the Alodapon Police Station.

  • The prosecutor requested to reject both the claim for the testimony not to be heard, as well as the objection to the lack of impartial translation.

  • HRLP lawyer, Dimitris Choulis, raised the argument that refugees and asylum seekers are excluded from charges of illegal crossing and smuggling. In support of his argument, he submitted the asylum petition that Homayoun filed as evidence that he fulfills the criteria of Article 2 of the law 4251/2014, later reiterated in the new law (Article 3 5038/2023). → HRLP lawyer, Ioanna Begiazi, had previously mentioned at the Press Conference that took place ahead of the trial on Friday 19th that “According to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, asylum seekers should not be criminalised for border-crossing because, by default, they have to cross illegally”.

  • Following a short recess, the judges decided to postpone the trial to 24/09/24 in order to contact the aliens’ department and determine the whereabouts of the absent witness.

  • In response to the Court’s decision, the defence lawyers asked for the release under terms of Homayoun until the next trial, emphasising his poor health condition and the lack of healthcare provision in prison and the inhumane detention conditions.

  • After only a few minutes of deliberation, the judges rejected the petition to release Homayoun from detention while awaiting the next hearing.

After the trial was adjourned, Dimitris Choulis commented on the Court’s decision: “The decision today is a message from the judicial system: if you fight back we will punish you. Although we are used to this mental torture from previous cases, it always surprises me when the judges are so harsh with vulnerable people.”

Indeed, this is not an unprecedented outcome. Homayoun Sabetara’s case constitutes a blatant example of the systematic criminalisation of people on the move by Greek authorities. Currently, there are over 2,000 people imprisoned in Greece who have been convicted as alleged smugglers on questionable evidence, people whose right to a fair trial has been violated. “The Greek government’s policy is to instrumentalise the criminal law in order to punish migration. This is a violation of the rule of law and the consequences are suffered by the ones who seek safety in EU”, says Hannah Elias from the #FreeHomayoun campaign.

“The Greek government’s policy is to instrumentalise the criminal law in order to punish migration”
-Hannah Elias, #FreeHomayoun campaign

According to Mr. Choulis “While smuggling is defined as acting for profit, it's unfairly applied to those seeking safety in a new country. These proceedings not only violate legal principles but also breach the Geneva Convention, which protects asylum seekers from criminalisation”, he emphasized. In accordance to Choulis’ words, HRLP lawyer, Ioanna Begiazi, also stressed that “The exemption of refugees and asylum seekers from the scope of trafficking law is never acknowledged by the Greek courts, who do not even examine whether the accused is among the transferred people”.

After the end of the trial, Mahtab Sabetara was devastated “My father’s lawyers requested his release on terms due to his state of health. The court turned down the request within a few minutes”. Nonetheless, she addressed the public and her father’s supporters with some words of encouragement "We will continue to fight against the criminalisation of migration, and we will turn today’s tears to strength and determination”.

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