The case of the young asylum seekers facing terrorism and hijacking charges, known as the ElHiblu3, is stalled, two years after they landed in Malta
A 15-year-old asylum seeker landed in Malta after being rescued at sea two years ago to date. He says that was the last time he experienced some form of joy.
Together with another two African youths, he faces 30 years in prison after being accused of hijacking the ship El Hiblu.
The merchant vessel had been instructed to take 108 people aboard to Libya, an unsafe port. But on March 28, 2019, it entered Malta.
The Armed Forces of Malta boarded the ship as it approached local waters, following reports that migrants had seized control of the vessel and forced it to head to Europe.
The three young men – then aged 15, 16 and 19 – were arrested and charged with crimes amounting to terrorist activity. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
The case is now at a standstill, awaiting the outcome of a magisterial inquiry, while human rights advocates around the world call for the charges to be dropped.
Every Sunday, the three meet to read messages of hope, sent to them from around the world as part of an Amnesty International campaign.
In the meantime, they live every second of their life with the threat of a prison sentence hanging over their heads.
“I would have never thought I would find myself in this situation. All I used to dream of was to find freedom, but now I’m scared that I will be jailed for the rest of my life. Right now, neither my body, nor my mind are free,” one of the three, now aged 17, told The Sunday Times of Malta.
“It is difficult to explain in words, but it feels like my mind is stuck and I cannot go forward or backward. The El Hiblu ordeal is all I think of – it has become my life.
“The last moment I felt some kind of joy was when my feet touched ground, after being rescued out at sea… but I had no idea what was awaiting me on that land.”
According to an alliance of human rights activists in support of the three youths, collectively known as the ElHiblu3, Malta is trying to make an example of the accused to deter others from protesting pushbacks to Libya.
The criminalisation of the ElHiblu3 in Malta is yet another piece in the puzzle of a systematic attempt to oppress acts of solidarity and dissent at Europe’s borders, the alliance said.
Right now, neither my body nor my mind are free
It notes that in Greece, on Lesvos, two minors were recently sentenced to five years in prison for arson, following “a deeply unfair” trial lasting one day that “did not bring any credible evidence to light”.
In Italy, several human rights groups and NGOs face charges of “aiding and abetting illegal immigration”, simply for having rescued thousands in distress at sea, the alliance added.
“While we witness how EU member states and institutions continue to break international law through violent pushbacks as well as forms of non-assistance and abandonment, migrants trying to escape from inhumane conditions and those in solidarity with them become criminalised.
“Instead of being prosecuted, the ElHiblu3 should be celebrated for their actions in preventing the return of 108 precarious lives to Libya. Their imprisonment and prosecution constitute a deep injustice.”
The alliance is made up of Mediterranea Saving Humans, Alarm Phone, Sea-Eye, borderline-europe, sea-watch.org, Kopin, Integra, JRS, Isles of the Left, Dunya Collective, mare liberum, migreurop, migrationcontrol.info, Legal Clinic UniRoma 3, Seebrucke, SOS Malta, iuventa10, Escapes - Laboratorio di studi critici sulle migrazioni forzate, Spark15, Blue door, Moviment Graffitti, Pro Asyl, MGRM, African Media Association Malta, Melting Pot Europa, Migrant Woman Association Malta, Black Lives Matter Malta, ffm and Leave NoOne Behind.
*Names are not being publishedby court order
‘Travesty of justice’
Three local civil society organisations that work with asylum seekers are urging prosecutors to drop the charges.
They noted that the three youths say they acted as translators between the ship’s crew and rescued people, but prosecutors risk sending them to prison for life by pressing terrorism and hijacking charges against them.
The Migrants Commission, Jesuit Refugee Services Malta and Justice and Peace Commission say the authorities are taking “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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