Names marked with an asterisk have been modified to guard identities.

Athens, Greece – Saeed* can not perceive why he’s in Avlona jail, a detention heart northeast of the Greek capital Athens.

“Whoever asks me why you’re in jail, I reply that I don't know,” stated the 21-year-old Egyptian. “We’re kids, we’re scared. We’re advised that we are going to be sentenced to 400 or 1000 years in jail. Each time they are saying that, we die.”

He’s amongst 9 Egyptians in preventive detention and accused of legal accountability for a shipwreck outdoors the town of Pylos final yr, which led to the dying of a whole bunch of individuals making an attempt to achieve Europe.

The group is accused underneath Greek legislation of forming a legal group, facilitating unlawful entry and inflicting a shipwreck.

They’re the one people who find themselves saved above the wreckage.

Nonetheless, Al Jazeera, in partnership with Omnia TV and the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton, can reveal that each one 9 accused declare that they weren’t among the many smugglers who organized or profited from the journey.

They are saying they have been the one passengers who survived and say the Greek coast guard brought on the overpacked boat to capsize.

Talking on the telephone from detention, they advised Al Jazeera and their colleagues that the Greek prosecution didn’t precisely take their testimonies and that they pressured them to signal paperwork they didn’t perceive with violence or underneath threats of violence .

Two separate survivors additionally stated the 9 accused weren’t responsible and blamed the Hellenic Coast Nationwide Guard.

Fearing reprisals for talking out towards the Greek state, all 11 sources have requested Al Jazeera to cover their identities and use pseudonyms for this text.

The 9 defendants, who embrace fathers, staff and college students, are stated to have paid between 140,000 to 150,000 Egyptian kilos ($4,500 to $4,900) to a smuggler or an affiliate to board the doomed boat.

“I let you know, I’m somebody who paid 140,000 Egyptian kilos,” stated Magdy*, one other defendant. “If I'm the man who put these folks on the boat, I'll have like seven, eight or 9 thousand euros. Twenty thousand euros. Why the hell would I board a ship like that?

In 2022, a smuggler advised the Guardian that he prices Egyptians about 120,000 Egyptian kilos ($3,900). Current reviews have discovered that these touring from Syria usually pay round 6,000 euros (about $6,500) for such a visit.

The opposite two survivors, each Syrians, stated they paid cash to folks, however to not the accused Egyptians. The 9 detainees weren’t concerned in smuggling, they stated.

“No. They weren’t responsible of something,” stated Ahmed*.

dozens of people covering virtually every stretch of free deck on a battered fishing boat that later capsized and sank in southern Greece.
Individuals lined virtually all of the free stretches of the deck on the stricken fishing boat which later capsized. Picture offered on June 13, 2023 [Hellenic Coast Guard via AP]

On that fateful day final yr, June 14, the Adriana, overloaded with an estimated 700-750 folks, together with Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis, Afghans and Palestinians – amongst them kids – capsized. The derelict blue fishing trawler had left Libya 5 days earlier.

Solely 84 our bodies have been recovered and 104 on board have been rescued, that means a whole bunch died in one of many worst refugee boat disasters on report within the Mediterranean.

Rights teams, activists and a few survivors say Greek Coast Guard officers have failed of their duties to avoid wasting lives at sea.

Ahmed stated he noticed the 9 accused throughout the chaos because the ship appeared able to capsize, and the passengers started to panic and run.

“They have been simply directing folks when our ship began to capsize. They have been yelling at folks to stabilize the ship,” he stated.

Seven of the defendants declare they noticed a Coast Guard patrol boat tie a rope to the fishing trawler. Greek officers fired as soon as, then twice, inflicting the boat to capsize within the Mediterranean, they stated.

“I noticed that the Greek boat had tied a thick blue rope, a rope, in the course of the boat,” stated Fathy*, one other of the defendants. “They pulled, the boat tipped to the facet, they noticed it tip, they saved going, so the boat flipped over.”

“Greece – a Greek boat, towed us and capsized us – and killed our brothers and pals and now I'm myself and I'm in jail.”

Two of the defendants stated they have been within the maintain and didn’t understand what had occurred till after the catastrophe, after they have been on board the Greek Coast Guard boat.

The 2 Syrian survivors advised Al Jazeera that they witnessed the Greek Coast Guard pulling the fishing trawler away.

“They’d nothing to do with the boat sinking. It's apparent,” stated Mohammad*, of the Egyptians who’re being held.

“It’s a must to be logical. It was an enormous ship and it could not have sunk if nobody had intervened. The engine was damaged, but it surely might keep afloat. The Greek Coast Guard is absolutely answerable for the sinking.”

The Hellenic Coast Guard has denied the allegations, saying it has “absolute respect for human life and human rights”.

“Nonetheless, in cooperation with authorized authorities and different related our bodies, applicable management mechanisms might be put in place the place crucial,” his assertion to Al Jazeera stated.

Initially, the coast guard didn’t consult with any rope incident in its official statements and its spokesman Nikos Alexiou denied reviews of rope.

Nonetheless, Alexiou later stated the 2 boats have been “connected with ropes to forestall them from drifting” in an announcement that got here amid rising numbers of survivors.

An ongoing investigation within the naval courtroom of Kalamata goals to find out whether or not the Hellenic Coast Guard carried out the search and rescue correctly.

A latest Frontex incident report of the Pylos shipwreck discovered that “it appears that evidently the Greek authorities didn’t promptly declare a search and rescue and deploy a enough variety of applicable belongings in time to avoid wasting the migrants”.

The beginning date of the trial for the 9 accused males has not been set, though based on Greek legislation, it ought to start inside 18 months of after they have been first detained. If the boys are discovered responsible, they might face many years in jail.

“After I ended, it hit me”

The brand new males say they offered their testimonies on the Kalamata police station the day after the wreck underneath the pressure. They have been pressured to signal paperwork in Greek they might not perceive, they stated.

Two stated that the policemen and translators current throughout the interrogations beat or beat them.

Saber* stated he had given papers in Greek and expressed that he didn’t wish to signal them.

“[The interpreter] he advised me he would signal subsequent to my signature. As if nothing was taking place,” he stated. “After I ended, it hit me.”

Saber* stated he noticed the police hit one other of the accused within the chest.

The Hellenic Police didn’t reply to requests for touch upon these allegations.

Greece has lengthy been accused by rights teams of unfairly accusing harmless folks of smuggling – and convicting them.

Dimitris Choulis, a protection lawyer who has spent years engaged on related instances with the Samos Human Rights Authorized Challenge, sees this episode as one other instance of the “criminalization of refugees”.

“We see the identical patterns and the identical willingness of the authorities to essentially examine what occurred,” Choulis advised Al Jazeera.

A 2021 report by the German charity Border Monitoring discovered at the very least 48 instances on the islands of Chios and Lesbos alone of individuals serving a jail sentence, saying they “didn’t revenue in any approach from the smuggling enterprise” .

Choulis stated the smuggling trials lasted solely 20 minutes and resulted in 50-year jail sentences.

That is consistent with reviews from watchdog teams equivalent to Borderline-Europe that smuggling instances in Greece are being challenged and “issued on the idea of restricted and questionable proof”.

The Authorized Middle of Lesbos, which can be engaged on the protection of the 9 Egyptians, complained of a extreme lack of proof, saying that the investigation file is predicated “virtually solely” on a bunch of witnesses taken in “questionable circumstances” .

As well as, Al Jazeera examined leaked paperwork from the courtroom case, together with a grievance filed by the defendant's legal professionals that an professional report from a marine engineer and a naval mechanical engineer – ordered as a part of the investigation – used minimal proof: three images, two movies, and an e-mail. The report didn’t account for the overturning and sinking of the ship, the grievance.

The protection additionally questioned the impartiality of the appointed consultants and said that the procedures concerning how the defendants have been to learn of this professional report weren’t adopted.

Al Jazeera reviewed the response; the Prosecutor of Kalamata rejected the grievance, arguing that a further professional report could be redundant and that the procedures have been accurately adopted.

“I firmly imagine that the Hellenic Coast Guard brought on the wreck,” Choulis stated. “And the Hellenic Coast Guard carried out all of the pre-investigations of this case, and so they ordered the marine engineer to do the evaluation. I believe the issue right here is obvious.”

4 of the accused males stated they gave water to individuals who have been standing subsequent to them.

Choulis defined that in earlier instances of trafficking, giving folks water is assessed as contraband.

“We’ve seen the authorities cost folks, and in Pylos the identical, for acts equivalent to offering water, distributing meals, having a telephone, taking movies, trying on the GPS, contacting the authorities, trapping a rope to tug his boat to be saved and so forth.”

Gamal* can not perceive how giving water to somebody is taken into account smuggling.

“Certainly, if in case you have a bottle of water in your hand and somebody close to you is dying of thirst, you gained't give them water?” stated from jail. “No. Right here, that is thought-about human trafficking.”

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