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HRLP to defend Omid Mohammadnezhad, Kurdish Iranian Vegan activist, criminalized for seeking asylum.

On November 9, 2023, Dimitris Choulis, lawyer of the Human Rights Legal Project, will represent Omid Mohammadnezhad during his trial which will take place in Rhodes in front of a three member Court of Appeals of the Dodecanese First instance. O.M. was arrested in July 2022 and, since then, he has been detained in the prison of Avlona.

Omid Mohammadnezhad (1) is an Iranian national of Kurdish ethnicity. In Iran, he was part of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran and of a student union defending environmental rights. He left Iran with his family in 2017 and went to Turkey where he applied for protection. He was only 15 years old at the time.

In May 2018, in Turkey, he converted to Christianity and was baptized. In case of return to Iran, Omid fears persecution on several grounds. He first fears persecution on religious grounds as he could now be convicted of apostasy which is punishable by death in Iran. He also fears persecution on political grounds as he has been an environmental activist for several years. Both risks of persecution are enhanced by his belonging to the Kurdish minority, ethnic origin that can also constitute in itself a ground for persecution in Iran (2).

In Turkey, Omid’s application for international protection was rejected and there was an order for his deportation to Iran. He was consequently forced to flee Turkey. He wanted to go to Italy to apply for international protection.

Omid didn’t have enough money to pay for the journey. The smuggler agreed to make him pay less, under condition that he would help the captain of the boat if anything happens. In Turkey, Omid was at imminent risk of being deported to Iran despite the obvious threats to his life and he had therefore no other choice but to accept.

The boat left Turkey in July 2022 and was heading towards Italy. During the crossing, Omid was not driving the boat until the captain of the boat asked for his help to control the boat. The captain instructed Omid to take care of the steering wheel while he was controlling the engine. Omid was not himself steering the boat, the boat remained under the full control of the captain.

On the way to Italy, there was a storm and the engine of the boat broke down, in the Greek maritime territory. Omid was translating the captain’s orders to all the passengers as they all unsuccessfully tried to repair the boat. The passengers were therefore forced to request assistance from the nearest ship; it was a commercial ship that delivered them to the Greek authorities. The same night they were taken to a camp on the island of Kos, and he was interrogated by the police.

Omid Mohammadnezhad was arrested and charged with forming or joining, with intent, a criminal organization, with the purpose of committing more crimes and specifically more illegal transfers to Greece of 31 third country nationals, as captain of a fishing vessel, for profit, under article 30 paragraph 1 (b) and (c) of Law 4251/14 combined with article 187 paragraph 1 of the Penal Code. As the boat was unsuitable for navigation, there is also an aggravating circumstance because a risk could arise from the transportation, pursuant to article 30 paragraph 1 (c). He faces a maximum sentence of 465 years of imprisonment (15 years per person transported) and a fine of 200 000 euros.

The court of Kos decided to pre-detain him until his trial and he has therefore already spent more than a year in pre-detention.

Omid has been very active politically for years and advocated for the protection of the environment. He has been vegan for 5 years. He contacted the lawyers of HRLP to complain that he was not receiving food that was in conformity with his diet and he was therefore often forced to skip meals. Alexandros Georgoulis intervened and since then, Omid has been able to follow his diet in the prison.

On November 9, Dimitris Choulis will travel to Rhodes to defend Omid in front of the three member Court of Appeals of the Dodecanese First instance.

In two recent groundbreaking decisions, the one Member Court of Appeals of Syros First Instance, seated in Samos, acquitted two defendants of all charges. It was the first time, a Greek court found that refugees are excluded from the scope of Law 4251/2014 on Immigration, Social Integration Code and other provisions, and therefore cannot commit the offense of facilitation of illegal entry of third nationals and of illegal transfer of third nationals (find out more here)..

While court decisions do not legally bind other courts, these decisions set an important precedent and we hope that the Court of Appeal of the Dodecanese will follow the same legal reasoning.

By defending Omid,the lawyers of HRLP not only defend an individual, they defend the fundamental right to seek asylum. Indeed, Omid is yet another victim of criminalisation of migration, a state policy, in contravention with human rights principles, designed to prevent asylum seekers from entering Greece to apply for international protection.

(1) Omid Mohammadnezhad has authorized HRLP to publish his name.

(2) See for example UK Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Iran: Christians and Christian converts, September 2022. Available at <> and UK Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Iran Kurds and Kurdhish political groups, May 2022. Available at <>.

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