Twenty-six members of the European Parliament have written to Malta's attorney general urging the country to drop charges against three young men accused of having hijacked a cargo vessel, the El Hiblu to bring them here.
Resisting the pushback to Libya was not a crime but “a brave act of self-defence,” the MEPs said.
The El Hiblu had been ordered to head for Libya with the migrants it had abroad when the case happened two years ago. The migrants had earlier been picked up from a dinghy by the ship.
The three teenage asylum seekers are facing terrorism and hijacking charges, which make them liable for life imprisonment.
The MEPs, from different political groupings joined the chorus of activists demanding the charges be dropped immediately and the trial dismissed.
“We highly condemn the prosecution of the El Hiblu three, who were 15, 16 and 19 years old when arrested and who stand accused of those grave crimes by the Maltese state,” the European parliamentarians wrote.
“Upholding one’s right to be taken to a place of safety, as enshrined in international law of the sea, must under no circumstances be criminalised,” they said.
“We agree that protesting illegal pushbacks to Libya is not a crime but instead a legitimate and brave act of self defence,” they continued.
The three teenagers were arrested when the Maltese authorities took over the ship. They were arraigned but the case is now at a standstill, pending the outcome of a magisterial inquiry.
In the letter, the MEPs also called out the European authorities involved in ordering the pushback, saying it constituted both a breach of international maritime law as well as a violation of fundamental rights.
“We demand the end of all illegal returns to Libya and massive human rights violations resulting from Europe’s collaboration with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard,” the MEPs wrote.