Responding to the news that Malta’s Attorney General has indicted three young West African men known as the ‘El Hiblu 3’, for allegedly attempting to stop their illegal return to Libya by the crew of a ship who rescued them at sea in 2019, Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International’s Regional Researcher said:
“The Attorney General has taken more than four-and-a-half years to make the worst possible decision.
“It is a travesty of justice that these young men, who acted as mediators between the crew and a group of panicked asylum-seekers, will now face trial and possible life imprisonment.
“The indictment fails to recognize that they were part of a group of more than 100 asylum-seekers faced with an illegal pushback to Libya which would have put their lives at risk. Yet, they are the ones who might now need to defend themselves against charges ranging from ‘acts of terrorism’ to ‘violence’.
“The inquiry that has led to the indictment has been marred by serious procedural irregularities, including the detention of the then children in adult facilities, their prosecution in adult courts, and the failure to call key witnesses to testify.
“The case against the El Hiblu 3 should never have been brought, but there is still time for the Maltese authorities to drop the charges and to spare these young men further injustice.”
In March 2019, three West African teenagers, from Ivory Coast and Guinea, (aged 15, 16, 19) boarded a crowded rubber boat, fleeing Libya together with 108 other people. After their boat started deflating, they were rescued by a cargo ship, the El Hiblu. The ship’s captain then tried to return them to Libya, a move which would contravene international law, as captains have a legal duty to take those who they rescue at sea to a safe destination.
After the ship eventually arrived in Malta on 28 March 2019, the Maltese authorities arrested them, claiming the three youths had pressured the crew to change course. According to the many testimonies of asylum-seekers on the ship at the time, the three had tried to calm panicked people and acted as translators between the crew and the rescued people.
More info see case summary here