Amnesty International is calling on people to write to the Maltese authorities to drop all charges against three young African youths accused of hijacking a merchant vessel last year.

They face 30 years in prison.

Their only crime, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Europe Nils Muižnieks says, was to interpret the desperate pleas of people who did not want to return to torture in Libya.

The human rights NGO has flagged their case in its Write for Rights campaign.

Every year, the campaign involves hundreds of thousands of people writing letters, signing petitions and organising events to demand justice for people who have been imprisoned, attacked or who have disappeared.

The El Hiblu entered Malta on March 28, 2019 after the armed forces boarded the ship as she approached Maltese waters, following reports that migrants had seized control of the vessel and forced her to head to Europe.

Five people were arrested and three of them – teenagers aged 15, 16 and 19 – were charged with crimes amounting to terrorist activity.

They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. The case is at a standstill, awaiting the outcome of a magisterial inquiry.

Why haven't over 100 migrants aboard the El Hiblu not yet been brought in as witnesses?

One of their lawyers, Neil Falzon, questioned why the other migrants aboard the El Hiblu – over 100 people – have not yet been brought in as witnesses.

For Muižnieks, the El Hiblu case embodies the dilemma of desperate people trying to reach Europe’s shores who are sometimes criminalised for their attempt to escape torture and awful conditions.

“The case encapsulates the awful conditions that migrants and asylum seekers are subjected to in Libya – including arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence – which Amnesty International has documented and how people who don’t want to go back there are being pushed or pulled back illegally because the EU and its member states, including Malta, cooperate with the regime in Libya.”

Amnesty International believes that all charges against the three young men should be dropped: “These are people who did not want to go back to Libya to face torture and served as interpreters for desperate people who also didn’t want to go back to face torture. We don’t think they should be held criminally liable for that,” he said.

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