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Suspended sentence for Spanish activist is "decisive" for decriminalising solidarity with migrants and refugees
19.12.18
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The lawyer for a Spanish trade unionist given a suspended sentence of 17 months' imprisonment for trying to help a Kurdish refugee leave Greece has said the ruling is a "positive step" and "decisive to decriminalise solidarity" with migrants and refugees.

In November 2016, Lola Gutiérrez tried to help a 17-year-old Kurdish refugee, Ayad, leave Greece - he used her son's Spanish identity documents and she posed as his mother whilst the two tried to board a plane at Athens airport. A member of the staff at the airport grew suspicious when they went to check in and tipped off the police.

They were both subsequently detained. Gutiérrez was declared a threat to national security and deported, and in summer 2017 charged with attempted people smuggling and the improper use of documentation.

Ayad was detained for three days and then set free, after which he returned to the makeshift refugee camp in Athens where he had been living previously. He later managed to travel to France, by unknown means, where he is now living with relatives and training as a hairdresser.

On Tuesday 18 December a court in Athens finally heard the case against Gutiérrez and handed down a suspended sentence of 17 months' imprisonment, despite the prosecutor's request that she be put behind bars for between five and ten years.

Speaking to Spain's Efe news agency, her lawyer, Panayiotis Papayeoryiu, said:

"It's a very light penalty, precisely our objective. The judge has accepted the humanitarian motives that led Lola to act in this way. It's a positive step towards changing the legislation and alleviating the punishments in cases where people act out of solidarity, and in this sense it's decisive to decriminalise solidarity."

Ermengol Gassiot, the secretary-general of CGT Catalonia, the trade union for whom Gutiérrez works as a delegate in the Diputación de Barcelona (provincial council), told Efe that the union is "convinced that what Lola did" is a "show of solidarity", and that she has their full support.

The CGT's response was not as positive as Papayeoryiu's, however, with the union saying in a statement that they "consider the recognition of an act of solidarity as a crime as very serious," and that "what Lola did is what European states do not, despite having their mouths full of words like solidarity and justice."

Gutiérrez was not present at the trial. Having labelled her a "danger to national security" after her arrest and detention in 2016, she is also the subject of an entry ban which means that if she enters Greece again before 2023 she will be arrested and could face between three months and five years in prison.

After her arrest, Gutiérrez was held for some time in the Elliniko migrant detention centre in Athens, at which point she was able to make contact with a lawyer and her colleagues in the CGT. They subsequently campaigned for her release and, along with Barcelona City Council, submitted statements in support of her to the Greek courts.

Gutiérrez's daughter told Efe that "we're very happy with the result. It's a victory for us. There is a need to continue with the struggle, there are many cases such as this, my mother's is just one more."

Two other Spanish activists, Mikel Zuloaga, from Biscay, and Begoña Huarte, who were arrested in Greece in December 2016 while attempting to transport eight refugees out of the country in a camper van face charges of "facilitating illegal immigration". Their case is yet to be heard.

Sources

Condenan a 17 meses de cárcel en Grecia a una activista española que intentó sacar del país a un menor refugiado, Público, 18 December 2018,

El caso de Lola Gutiérrez: hasta 10 años de cárcel por intentar ayudar a un menor kurdo a reunirse con su familia, El Salto, 12 November 2018

La justicia griega condena a 17 meses de cárcel a la sindicalista de CGT Lola Gutiérrez, El Salto, 18 December 2018,

Further reading

Two arrested and charged with "facilitating illegal immigration" for refugee transport effort denouncing EU policies, Statewatch News Online, 30 December 2016

Investigations and prosecutions for crimes of solidarity escalate in 2018, IRR, 6 December 2018

The shrinking space for solidarity with migrants and refugees, TNI, 6 November 2018

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