The Criminalisation of Solidarity on Lesvos

by Marie Gillespie

21 March 2022

On Wednesday March 16, 2022, Norwegian photographer and volunteer with Lesvos Solidarity, Knut Bry, was arrested in the port of Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece, on charges of espionage and detained in the Port Authority building for taking photos for his next book Landscapes of Lesvos.

On Friday afternoon, March 17, 2022, Knut appeared in court and ordered to attend court on Monday, March 21 at 12:00. After more than three hours, it was decided that he would be released on bail and had to pay 4,000 euros. The investigation continues.

His friends in Mytilini were allowed to visit him every day for half an hour. They brought him clean clothes, food and books. They shared with him all the messages of support he was receiving from all over the world.  Local and international friends used social media with the hashtag #freeknutbry and #WeAreAllSpies to raise awareness of his plight. Local friends took photos of naval ships in the port of Mytilini  anf posted them online asking “Am I also a spy?”. “Knut Bry’s support group” was formed on Facebook and now has more than 3,500 followers sharing messages of support. In their newsletter of 21 March Lesvos Solidarity reported:

“His case is unfortunately another example of the unjustified criminalisation of innocent people and the solidarity movement”.

Knut is released from Port Authority in Mytline after his arrest on charge of espionage.
Copyright image: Lesvos Solidarity

Knut Bry is renowned word-wide for his photography as well as his unfailing advocacy of refugee rights. For years he has volunteered with Lesvos Solidarity at Pikpa refugee camp and their cultural and educational centre Mozaic. He is greatly loved by all who meet him. Sometimes, one would see him in the kitchen peeling potatoes while at other times, he pursued  his passion for photography and rarely would you see him without his camera – that’s what made his arrest for those who knew him seem like an Absurdist piece of theatre by the Greek officials.  His great sense of humour and playful nature would bring smiles to everyone he met.

At the Open University (OU), we have a very special connection with Knut. He has worked with us forced migration researchers since 2016. For example, he co-produced a wonderful photo ethnography of the internationally recognised solidarity work at Pikpa refugee camp. Sadly, the camp was shut down by the local authority in 2019 – another act of folly by the local authorities who caved to pressures of anti-migrant groups on the island. On the Open University website, the book Communities of Solidarity: The Story of Pikpa Refugee Camp (which is free to download here and Knut’s photos can be downloaded individually and used  here) was described as follows:

This envisioning of solidarity with refugees is radically unlike mainstream media images of refugees because they are by and with refugees.  These pictures do not objectify, do not rely on tropes of victimhood but speak of hope, agency and resilience through solidarity.

Knut was also part of the OU’s Dialogues Across Borders installation and exhibition at the Tate Exchange with friends from Lesvos Solidarity alongside Umut Erel, Elena Boukavala and Marie Gillespie. Once again his photos lit up the Tate and captivated people attending.

Indeed, his contributions and our creative work together with Knut laid the foundations for this project – Covid Chronicles from the Margins. He has contributed stunning images for a blog about water film by Sophie Watson, but just take a look at this wonderful film with images from Knut curated by Carlos Ibarra Rivadeneira for this project.


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