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International rights advocates call on AG to drop El Hiblu 3 charges

A group of international human rights advocates have called on the attorney general to drop terrorism charges against three young men accused of commandeering a ship and threatening its crew after they were rescued at sea.

In 2019, teenagers Amara, Kader and Abdalla were among a group of 108 migrants crossing from Libya in a dinghy when they were rescued by the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1.

When the ship entered Maltese waters, the armed forces boarded the vessel and the three youths were arrested and accused of being the ringleaders in a hijack.

They have pleaded not guilty, saying they only acted as mediators and translators for the rest of the passengers on the ship.

The group of advocates, who form part of the El Hiblu 3 Freedom Commission, said they were concerned about the “unfair accusations, ongoing delays and pending indictments” against the so-called El Hiblu 3.

“The accusations are grossly unfair and traumatising for those concerned, with several carrying life sentences. The agonising ordeal is made worse by over four years of dehumanising restrictions that the three young men have to endure, such as staying 50 metres away from the shore,” they said in a statement.

Recalling that the three were imprisoned for eight months while two of them were minors before being released on bail, they said the dangling accusations remained a source of stress and anxiety that were impeding the men, one of whom is now a responsible father, from continuing to live a normal life.

“For over four years and four months, the three young men who study and work in Malta, their families and friends have lived in terrible uncertainty, scared that they will be remanded back into custody,” the group continues.

“The prosecutors stated they had no more evidence and rested their case in Autumn 2022. The Attorney General, Dr Vittoria Buttigieg, must now decide whether to dismiss the case or to bring charges against the three young men.”

Testimonies heard in court confirm that the three teenagers were merely acting as translators and mediators between the ship’s crew and the rescued people, the activists said.

Despite their own fears, Abdalla, Amara and Kader had stepped in to resolve a tense situation when the crew of the El Hiblu allegedly attempted to illegally push back the group of migrants to Libya.

“Both their actions at the time and the way they have since dealt with the ongoing ordeal have been examples of integrity and courage,” they said.

“We, an independent alliance of human rights advocates, are convinced that the prosecution of the El Hiblu 3 constitutes a deep injustice. We call on Malta’s attorney general to end this injustice, legal limbo, and terrible uncertainty. Dismiss all the charges!”

The letter was signed by: Allison West, Senior Legal Advisor at the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, Berenice Böhlo, lawyer and president of European Democratic Lawyers, Carola Rackete, ecologist and sea rescue activist, Dr Forsten Moritz, General Secretary of the Church’s Commission for Migrants in Europe, Enrica Rigo, Jourist and activist, Founder of the Legal Clinic on Migration and Asylum, University of Rome, Jean Zeigler, University of Geneva, Austria, Judith Sunderland, Associate Europe and Central Asia Division Director at Human Rights Watch, Lorenzo Pezzani, architect, film director, researcher, and co-founder of Forensic Oceanography, Italy, Maria Pisani, head of department, Youth & Community Studies, University of Malta, Nils Muiznieks, director Regional Office, Amnesty International, Ramona Lenz, Medico International, Germany, Regine Psaila, chairperson of the African Media Association, Malta, Reverend Anton D’Amato, director, Migrants’ Commission, Malta, Sandro Mezzadra, political theorist at the University of Bologna, co-founder of, Italy, Wolfgang Koleck, General Secretary, European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, Berlin and Yana Mintoff, activist and author, Association for Justice, Equality and Peace, Malta.