Pieter Wittenberg on his way to Greek court, rescue worker gets headaches and stomach aches from possible prison sentence

Tonight Pieter Wittenberg (75) will fly from Peest to Greece and he may not return to Drenthe. On January 10, the lawsuit against him and 23 other rescuers is scheduled. Wittenberg says he has saved human lives with his work on the island of Lesbos by helping boat people safely land, but the judiciary in Greece may think otherwise. “Everyone is very sympathetic, but no one can get it over their lips that I may not return.”

The case will be dealt with substantively on Tuesday after it was previously postponed indefinitely. According to Wittenberg, he is suspected of, among other things, espionage and human smuggling during the refugee crisis on the Greek islands in 2016 and 2017. A year later, it turned out that this work was going to get a legal tail. Wittenberg now faces years of imprisonment.

“As it gets closer, it gets more and more exciting,” says Wittenberg a few hours before he takes the bus to Schiphol and gets on the plane to Athens. “I’ve been trying to get some rest lately. But I can’t, because all kinds of things are happening. In the coming days, everything will be arranged, in collaboration with Amnesty International.”

Wittenberg is not alone in his fight against justice in Greece. Human rights organization Amnesty International, among others, spoke out against persecution. According to Amnesty, the case shows how far the Greek authorities go to discourage people from helping refugees. A solidarity meeting was also held in Amsterdam’s Westerpark, which attracted about sixty people. In addition, Wittenberg has the support of Human Rights Watch.