Croatia: Criminalising solidarity: Are You Syrious? statement on politically motivated, unjust guilty verdict for our volunteer

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Criminalising solidarity: Are You Syrious? statement on politically motivated, unjust guilty verdict for our volunteer
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Statement originally published by Are You Syrious? on 25 September 2018.
This past March, AYS volunteer Dragan Umicevic approached a police control near the Croatian border to alert police to a family of asylum seekers huddled in a field near Strošinci, already on Croatian soil. A few days later, he was shocked to find himself facing charges of aiding and abetting the asylum seekers’ “illegal crossing” of the Croatian border - despite the fact that he had never laid eyes on the family before and hadn’t even communicated with them directly beforehand.

Acts of solidarity towards refugees and asylum seekers are routinely criminalized across Europe, often using laws meant to stop human trafficking - recent high-profile cases include a French farmer accused of feeding and giving people lifts in the Roya Valley, and two young volunteers on Lesvos. An act as innocent as giving someone a ride in the back of your truck so that they don’t have to walk along a busy and dangerous motorway can be prosecuted. And, of course, there is Hungary’s infamous “Stop Soros” law, which would punish any group or individual who helps an asylum seeker in any way with a prison sentence. Criminalizing solidarity is a clever tactic that works to sap aid organizations’ energy and resources, while publicly distracting from the real scandal: the endemic, state-sponsored human rights abuses experienced by asylum seekers.

The case against Dragan is an especially flagrant example of this strategy, given that Dragan had not met or communicated directly with the refugees he is accused of helping smuggle across the border until after they were picked up by police - and the government provided absolutely no evidence to support their charge that he did so. They claim he used light signals to navigate them over the border - but at that time they were already in Croatia, and Dragan was standing with three police officers at the police checkpoint. Now, a day before the verdict on Dragan’s case is officially published by the court, the Croatian media is parroting a story that was likely leaked by the government itself. Please read AYS’s statement on the matter below.

State revenge for the little Madina case - AYS volunteer convicted, perpetrators walk free

It is not at all common to issue comments on a pending verdict, especially if judicial reasoning is yet to be given, and the verdict has yet to be published on the notice board of the court in charge. However, given that the information on the pending verdict in the case of our volunteer Dragan Umicevic has been leaked to the media through unknown channels, we find it pertinent to clarify several allegations and put them in context.

We believe that the public is well acquainted with the case of little Madina, a six-year-old girl who was killed during an illegal expulsion from Croatia on the night of 21st November 2017. Unknown perpetrators in the Croatian police were reported to the State’s Attorney Office of the Republic of Croatia following Madina’s death. Later investigation found the potentially incriminating thermographic camera recording of the controversial incident mysteriously missing. No-one took responsibility for the loss of the little girl’s life - not those who had ordered Madina and her family to follow the freezing tracks back into Serbia, nor those who had ordered the illegitimate expulsion or whose support had been implicit.

Not four months later, the night of 20th March 2018, little Madina’s family contacted AYS through Facebook. The night was unusually cold for that time of the year and a storm raged outside. Madina’s elder sister told us that there were a total of 11 children and juveniles freezing in a field near the Strošinci village, and that they were frightened another tragedy would strike. Despite it all, they wanted to apply for asylum in Croatia. By submitting their geolocation, they confirmed to us that they were in Croatian territory. The volunteers on duty did the only thing legally and humanly possible - they contacted the police to inform them of an unregistered family of refugees in the territory of the Republic of Croatia claiming to seek asylum.

Given the extremely harsh weather conditions, as well as the fact that it was a family that had previously experienced an unimaginable tragedy in similar circumstances, we asked our volunteer Dragan (who lives closest to the location where all of this was occuring) to go out in the field and find the nearest police patrol, in order to stress the fact that according to our info, there was a family with many small children in a field near Strošinci who wanted to seek international protection.

He did just that - he went to the police posting near the border and handed over all the information we had. He was never in direct contact with Madina’s family. He saw them for the very first time later that night, when the police took them to a nearby police station. This is why we were very unpleasantly surprised when the MOI subsequently made an indictment against him, claiming that Dragan “assisted in [Madina’s family’s] illegal crossing of the border.” This grotesque accusation can only be interpreted as a tool of political pressure on AYS, who were the first organisation to bring to light the information on the death of little Madina, and has continuously been speaking out on the issue of the illegal treatment of refugees on the borders of Croatia, enacted by the Croatian police, which is also the context in which our government is being talked about in the European Parliament lately.

It’s curious that the indictment against our volunteer comes in a time when we started speaking out about the violence happening on our borders. Additionally, it’s interesting that in the indictment motion, the MOI, among other things, asked for “the prohibition of work in Croatia for the legal entity.” Taking into consideration the fact that Dragan is not a legal entity, this could only mean the prohibition of work for AYS. It is also interesting to note that the pending verdict, which the court hasn’t published on it’s official bulletin board yet (meaning it’s not publicly available) has been published by a state-owned news agency.

And has been published at the exact time when AYS warned of another child, the five-year-old Allsa, who fell victim to the illegal practices of the Croatian police.

The only, very unpleasant, conclusion that we can reach is that it was the Ministry of Interior itself who released this information to the public, in order to draw attention away from its own illegal acts, while discrediting human rights defenders in the public eye. Our volunteer is of course not guilty of the charges filed against him, and we will not stop until we’ve exhausted all legal instances to prove this. Sharing this post will help the truth in reaching a wider circle of people, and it would mean the world to us. A big thank you to everyone for all your support. The fight continues!

See: Are You Syrious?(Facebook, link)

For background on the death of Madina Hussiny, see: 'They treated her like a dog': tragedy of the six-year-old killed at Croatian border(The Guardian, link)

See also: BELGIUM: ‘Crimes of solidarity’ in Europe multiply as 11 stand trial in Belgium for helping migrants (Global Voices, link)

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