Three civil society organisations that work with asylum seekers are urging prosecutors to drop charges against three youths who face up to life in prison for having allegedly hijacked a ship.

The young men were aged just 15, 16 and 19 when they docked in Malta on March 26, 2019 aboard the El Hiblu, a ship that had picked up more than 100 men, women and children at sea and was returning them to Libya when rescued people took over command and ordered the captain to steer it to Europe.

The three youths say they acted as translators between the ship’s crew and rescued people but local prosecutors have pressed terrorism and hijacking charges against them, with the risk of life sentences in prison if found guilty.

On Saturday, the Migrants Commission, Jesuit Refugee Services Malta and Justice and Peace Commission said that authorities should drop the charges, which they said took “their desperate actions out of the dramatic context within which they occurred.”

“We believe that it is a travesty of justice to prosecute anyone who is resisting return to a country where there is a real risk that they will be locked up in life-threatening conditions,” the NGOs said.

“On the second anniversary of their arrival in Malta, we remind the government of the advice of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, to reconsider these disproportionate terrorism charges.

“And we join our voices to the many civil society organisations who have spoken up in support of the three youths and urge the government to drop the charges against them,” they added.

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