A CORK humanitarian worker who still faces the possibility of 25 years in a Greek prison for human trafficking is calling for the public’s support to help prove his innocence.
Seán Binder, from Doughcloyne in Cork city, received bail in Greece back in December 2018. An emotional reunion with his mother Fanny at Dublin Airport followed after more than 100 days in a Greek prison.
While still out of prison, Seán remains in legal limbo until a date is set for his trial and revealed he now faces a further charge of forgery.
Amnesty International has called for all charges to be dropped.
The Trinity College graduate had been assisting refugees embroiled in the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean in 2017 when charged with a string of offences, including trafficking, espionage and money laundering.
He said that the people of Cork and beyond were instrumental in securing his temporary freedom and he hopes that this support will continue throughout the legal process.
The 26-year-old has now set up a fundraising page to help cover legal costs for the months and years ahead.
He thanked the people of Cork for rallying around him at such a difficult time and vowed to fight for his innocence until the bitter end.
“People have asked me if I still would have done the same thing had I known about the risks,” Seán said.
“I’m always reluctant to answer that question because it buys into the idea that if we pull a drowning person out of the water it is somehow illegal, which it fundamentally isn’t.
“We should not allow ourselves to say ‘I shouldn’t have done that’.
“There is nothing wrong with the work we are trying to do and we should never be punished for trying to do it.”
He broke his silence on the horrors he experienced in jail.
“We tend to treat those who are vulnerable in our society the most poorly.
“Being in jail reminded me of that. I can remember waking up one morning to an inmate who was hanging himself.
“We managed to lift him out of the noose.
“Later, it was realised that he was suffering from severe mental and emotional trauma and he was released and given the support he needed.
“However, to see someone do something that extreme just to be listened to was tough.
“It made me realise that I have it incredibly well. I had support so never had to feel as low as that man did.”
He said that the deluge of support from Ireland and Germany gave him strength.
“Everyone in prison is innocent.
“They didn’t take those drugs or assault that person.
“However, once people saw my case covered by the media they knew I really was innocent. Knowing that meant inmates never saw me as a threat.”
One of Seán’s lowest points came when he was handcuffed to a man found guilty of a double homicide.
“At one point I was handcuffed to a man serving decades for double homicide.
“When you’re punished like that you start seeing yourself as a person who deserves to be punished.”
Nonetheless, Seán said the support from home kept him motivated.
“In jail, I was lucky to have a legal team and the well-wishers were immensely fortifying.”
He said that many in jail could not afford to eat.
“You could buy the necessities such as food, water and hygiene products.
“I had some money so could spend a bit more and was able to share my food with others. It was needed as there were some inmates who didn’t have anything to eat.”
Seán did his utmost to stay positive.
“It’s amazing how even in the most hopeless moments you can still find time to smile and laugh.”
He referred to one story by way of explanation.
“One prisoner had been released after serving time for murder.
“After his release, he ended up shooting a person trying to steal his goat.
“In the best example of poetic justice ever he ended up bunking with a man who had been found guilty of stealing goats.
“There was this big conspiracy not to tell him. He kept talking about how awful goat stealers were and how he was back in prison because of them.
“All the guy could do was agree and nod ‘yes, that’s awful’.”
Seán spoke about the friends he made in jail.
“One guy showed me how to shoot hoops while another gave me weight training.
“You don’t expect to be in prison and get world-class weight training.”
The Cork man is using his freedom to pursue advocacy and plans to study law in London this September.
“It doesn’t matter if you are going to be granted political asylum. Just because I helped someone out of the water doesn’t mean that my political position is that everyone should be given asylum. It is my position, however, that nobody should have to drown in pursuit of their legal right to seek it. Whether they are given asylum at the end of the day is not my business.”
He said that staying busy keeps his worries around a court date at bay.
“The more I reflect on these things the more overwhelming they become. That’s why I try to keep as busy as possible.
“During the lockdown, I was helping out with Farranree Meals on Wheels and it was really great to feel part of the community again.”
While Seán maintains that public attitude has been largely positive he has been subjected to hate mail.
“There are people who have different views who use racial slurs.
“One person sent me hate mail saying that I should have let those people drown and told me to go back to my own country.
“I ended up replying to his letter in Irish which I’m pretty sure he didn’t understand. Learning physics through Irish has definitely given me the upper hand in counter trolling!
“If I get mail like that I always take a moment to appreciate that something might have happened to that person, even though that doesn’t make it right.
“People who express racist views might not necessarily be racist but merely taking their frustrations out on others.
“Even though life is difficult this kind of anger doesn’t solve it.”
To contribute to Seán’s fundraising page visit www.betterplace.org/de/ projects/81284-spende-fuer-gerechtigkeit- an-europas-grenzen-free-nassos-sarah-sean.