A campaign was launched on Friday calling for the Maltese authorities to drop charges against three teenage refugees accused of hijacking a merchant vessel in March last year.
The Free El Hiblu Three! campaign has the support of Maltese and international NGOs and human rights activists including Moviment Graffitti and German Search and Rescue charity Sea Watch. They are appealing for the case against the teens to be dismissed.
The alliance argues that the teens aged 15, 16 and 19, should be celebrated for preventing themselves and the 105 others rescued at sea, from being illegally pushed back to Libya.
They add that the European Union’s approach to pushing rescued people back to Libya is a breach of international law of the sea and violates their rights. The act of standing up against the push back should instead be regarded as self-defence.
“The attempt to avoid being pushed back has to be considered an act of self-defence and a way to protect life which can’t legitimately be punished,” Jelka Kretzschmar from Sea-Watch said.
Members of the Armed Forces of Malta stormed the vessel as it approached Maltese waters in March last year.
The teens were subsequently arrested. They were alleged to have ordered the crew to turn back to Europe when they learned that the vessel had been instructed to take the 108 onboard back to Libya.
During proceedings in the Maltese courts, the teens were accused of hijacking and terrorist activity.
Under Malta's criminal code, unlawfully seizing control of a ship is considered a "terrorist activity." If found guilty, they face between seven and 30 years behind bars.
They were released on bail in November 2019 after seven months in prison, however decisions over their crimes are still looming, the campaigners say.
“Although they were released on bail in November 2019, the El Hiblu three are not free. They still face severe charges that could result in years in prison.”
“As signing organisations and groups, we demand the immediate dismissal of the trial. 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.”
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