Prosecution of El Hiblu teens constitutes ‘deep injustice’

A Maltese special forces soldier guards a migrant on the merchant ship Elhiblu 1 after it arrived in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Criminal proceedings against three teens who were on board the merchant vessel El Hiblu constitutes a ‘deep injustice’ the German civil search and rescue NGO Sea Watch said in a statement on Friday.

The NGO noted how the three teenagers facing criminal charges had acted as translators and mediators during the protest. However they are now facing lengthy imprisonment terms if found guilty.

On the one year anniversary human rights NGOs are calling for the dismissal of the criminal proceedings against the three teenagers underlining that they should be celebrated for their act rather than criminalised.

In a joint statement, Mediterranea, Sea Watch, and Alarm Phone launched an international solidarity campaign – Free El Hiblu Three! -with the three boys who stand charged.

In late March 2019, 108 people on board a rubber board were rescued by the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1. The operation was coordinated by a EUNAVFOR Med airplane.

Of the people on board the merchant vessel three teenagers – a 15, 16 and 19-year-old were eventually arrested and arraigned in court. The three teenagers who are out on bail face several charges including charges related to terrorism. Bail was only granted after seven months.

In court it had transpired that the rescuees were reassured that they would reach a port of safety in Europe. However in the morning they realised that they were being returned to Libya. A protest ensued on board which led the crew to re-direct the vessel towards Malta.

The vessel was stormed by the military in Maltese territorial waters.

Then Italian far-right Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini had described the incident as a “hijack”.

Upon entering Maltese waters the captain was in control of his vessel. No one was injured during the protest.

Sea Watch said that while the Maltese military forces expected “pirates” or “terrorists” they met humans who were seeking a safe place.

The humanitarian NGO noted that resisting illegal push backs to Libya is not a crime. On the year anniversary since the incident, Sea Watch appealed to the Maltese authorities to stop the prosecution of the three young migrants.

‘Malta is clearly trying to make an example of the three, in order to deter others from similarly resisting push-backs to Libya,’ Sea Watch said.

“We agree that protesting illegal push-backs to Libya is not a crime. We demand the end of all illegal returns to Libya and mass human rights violations resulting from Europe’s collaboration with the so-called Libyan coastguards,” the organisation said.

“European authorities should never instruct shipmasters to bring rescued people back to Libya since this constitutes a clear breach of international law of the sea and a grave violation of fundamental rights,” Lucia Gennari from Mediterranea remarked.

The campaign includes civil search and rescue organisations, international lawyers, researches, activists, human rights organisations in Malta and abroad.

Read more:

El Hiblu 1: ‘Age assessment confirmed two of the accused are minors’

Two teens charged in El Hiblu 1 case held at Paola prison; ‘Special protection needs totally ignored’ – lawyers

El Hiblu 1: Existing case law – An interview with Valentin Schatz (Part 2)

El Hiblu: Prison authorities not allowing interpreters provided by defence

El Hiblu 1: ‘Prison director allowed foreign journalist in’