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The Politics is criminal,
not the people


JAN 2023

January of 2023 has arrived and the weather is getting colder. Eighteen months ago the weather was warm and it was August when I was robbed of my freedom and they took me to Corydalis in Athens. Three times since then I have been out in the fresh air, each time on my way to court.

The last time I was in court was September 26, the day I was sentenced to 18 years in prison. At first it was supposed to be 70 years of imprisonment, but through the efforts of my lawyer and defense of my daughter, the prison term was shortened to 25 years, then to 18 years.


The judge, an elderly lady who probably imagined she had found the main culprit, proudly announced her final sentence, then they put me back in handcuffs back and took me upstairs to get my signature.

I was in shock and did not understand what happened. My lawyer and my children kept telling me this was the "horror verdict," with the motion for reconsideration, the verdict would be overturned and in 18 months I would be free. After a few moments that felt like an eternity, shame gripped me, I felt humiliated. My children had their arms around me and my thoughts wandered to my late wife, I didn't know if she was watching me or not. A song by Mohammad Nouri (an Iranian singer) came into my mind, " In the cold winter night, not even the stove of the sun burns as warm as the stove of my light, and no light burns as bright as my own light."


After the painful farewell to my children, I got on the prison bus, which consists of narrow four-person cells, and brought me back to Corydalis. Four months have passed since my last trial and I am writing. I indulge in my daydreams, dreaming of freedom. It feels like my mind is slowing down, my thoughts are not followed by a conclusion, they keep spinning, incessantly, further and further in circles.



  • Smuggling is defined as unauthorized transport across borders. Contrary to human trafficking, smuggling occurs with the consent of the persons being transported. Seeking asylum is a basic right and therefore legal in Europe. An application for asylum can only be made in the country of arrival. However: For the large part of People on the Move any possibilities to enter Europe legally are non-existent. Europe must therefore be reached via illegalized routes - such as the Mediterranean or the so-called Balkan route - in order to submit a legal application for asylum in the territory. On their way, persons are again dependent on smugglers, who streamline the process and sell their services to (at least in theory), assist in avoiding direct harm.

  • The answer to the question should be: always. But the reality looks different. While Europe perceives some persons as humanistic helpers, it criminalizes others as smugglers. In both cases, smugglers are human beings. Individuals who are forced to put themselves in life-threatening and exploitative situations are often portrayed as brutal and inhumane. The demonized image that European politicians and mainstream media paint of most smugglers only contributes to criminalizing those who aid in smuggling, rather than scandalizing the brutal and inhumane border and migration policies. Persons are criminalized for helping each other in life-and-death situations. They are imprisoned because they acted in solidarity.

  • Criminalizing persons in the course of their own migration, has become part of Europe's policy of deterrence. Persons who flee usually have no alternatives. If there were safe passages, people would make use of them, rather than having to take on undignified, exploitative, and life-threatening work.


    Criminalizing the act of smuggling persons does not fight the global injustices that underlie the reasons why people flee their country nor does it fight migration. It only turns persons who are fighting for their lives by being forced to flee, first into involuntary smugglers and then into "criminals." As a consequence, hundreds of persons end up in prisons every year, are forced to pay high fines, or sometimes serve life imprisonment. 


    Only those who perceive migration as a threat can benefit from "border security". Because "security" for some equals the elimination of others. Actual security is what People on the Move need, while Europe can offer protection.

  • The basis for the imprisonments is the Greek legislation, which states: every person who drives a vehicle with which persons enter Greece without valid residence documents is automatically subjected to being a smuggler.  This law has allowed for placing culpability on the victims. Often times when a boat or car carrying migrants arrive in Greek territory, the local border guards arrest at least one person and accuse them of smuggling. This may be the person who held the rudder or tiller to steer the boat or the person who communicated with the Coast Guard to call for help. Sometimes it is simply a person who speaks English. 

  • At the moment, migrants convicted of unauthorized entry make up the second largest group of persons in Greek prisons. A committee of the Council of Europe has recently described the conditions under which migrants are forced to live in these prisons as a violation of human dignity. As of September 2022, Greek prisons were housing up to 11,182 persons, with a maximum capacity of 10,175, leading to an average occupancy rate of 110 percent. In some prisons, overcrowding reached far higher numbers. 


    Korydallos Prison, where Homayoun Sabetara has been held since September 2021, had an occupancy rate of 152 percent at that time.  Homayoun reported that for the duration of 16 months, he had to share a small room with up to 26 persons. Due to overcrowding, many inmates are forced to sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses. There is a lack of hot water. The quality of food is poor (usually pasta without any sauce) and usually insufficient for the number of inmates.


  • The penal system in Greek prisons is unacceptable. Several reports have been published about inadequate equipment and the use of violence. Prisons are understaffed and provide limited to no access to medical services. Six years ago, Homayoun underwent cancer surgery and has had to take regular medication since then, but in prison, he has been unable to receive it for months.  Since being detained in a basement prison with another 20 people, with hardly any air, he has suffered from breathing problems and coughing. However, he has yet to receive proper medical care, including glasses or basic necessary medications such as an asthma inhaler. For months now, he has not received any medical check-ups despite several complaints of pain caused by either sleeping on the floor or on very poor mattresses. His neck arthritis makes it difficult for him to be pain-free even when sitting.



  • Recent evidence by civil society and human rights groups shows that in countries such as Greece and Italy, basic fair-trial standards are often disregarded. Many persons are arrested immediately upon arrival in Greece. During the approximate one year of pre-trial detention, detainees typically remain without information about their case or legal assistance. 


    Record materials confirm that translation services are consistently denied, exculpatory evidence is ignored, and witnesses are not called to testify. The average court hearing lasts approximately 38 minutes and results in an average prison sentence of 44 years. In a large number of cases, maximum sentences ranging from 50 to 150 years imprisonment are applied, in others, fines of hundreds of thousands of euros are imposed. These sentences, proportionate to a specific number of years per person present in the car or boat, pose an impossible situation for thousands of innocent migrants. If a shipwreck took place, charges such as manslaughter may be added to the conviction. While it is possible to appeal these sentences, it requires legal assistance, money, and public connections to do so. If these three resources are available, it is quite possible for the case to be dropped or for an acquittal to be reached, as a number of cases in recent months have shown. 




Here is a listing of all articles and posts published so far about Homayoun and his case.

Each additional article helps to draw attention to the case. If you are interested in further information or interviews, please contact us via

Campaign against the criminalization of migrants

H. Sabetara was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Greece for driving a car with refugees. He is one of thousands of people currently being criminalized in Italy and Greece for their migration. His daughter Mahtab Sabetara speaks here about her father's prosecution in Greece, representing so many affected people who have no voice.



Schmuggler-Porträts: Homayoun Sabetara, 18 Jahre Haft

The "fight against smugglers" is at the heart of European migration policy. Every year, millions of euros are poured into the "fight against unscrupulous criminals who put the lives of people on the run at risk," numerous charges are brought, trials are held, and thousands of people are imprisoned. But what is behind all this? Since when has the EU been interested in the welfare of refugees?



This program is about violence and about resistance. It is about the violence at the external borders of Europe and about the criminalization of refugees, which puts many in prison. And it is about resistance against it, concretely about the struggle of a daughter who fights for the release of her father, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Greece during his flight from Iran. We hear personal texts and analyses of the situation at the borders and the hypocritical anti-smuggling policy. And in between, music by Roody, a young rapper from Tehran.


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