Sea rescuers in court: will there be a case against the “Iuventa” crew?

Status: 05/21/2022 4:37 p.m

The crew of the “Iuventa” is said to have rescued more than 14,000 people from the Mediterranean Sea. Italy’s judiciary accuses the crew of working with smugglers. Today it will be decided whether there will be a criminal trial.

By Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Studio Rome

Kathrin Schmidt is also one of the accused. She was head of operations on the “Iuventa”, the ship of the aid organization “Jugend Rettet” on the Mediterranean Sea. According to the will of the public prosecutor’s office in Trapani, Sicily, the 38-year-old from Leipzig is now on trial, together with 20 other members of non-governmental organizations.

In their 653-page investigation summary, the public prosecutors accuse them of, among other things, aiding and abetting illegal immigration. Schmidt faces up to 20 years in prison under Italian law. She herself says: “What we have done is sea rescue. That can never be a crime.”

“Politically Charged Show Trial”

More than 14,000 people, says Schmidt, have saved their organization from drowning in the central Mediterranean, migrants and refugees on their way to Europe. In Trapani, three other Germans are among the 21 accused. Representatives of the organizations “Doctors Without Borders” and “Save the Children” also have to answer in court.

If the main trial were to be opened today, it would be the largest trial in Italy to date against non-governmental organizations and their work as sea rescuers. According to Schmidt, it is “clearly a very politically charged show trial.” “We are convinced that this is not about legal justice, but that political interests should be enforced.”

Leftists and liberals continue hard course

While in Germany there is a lot of support for the work of private sea rescuers on the Mediterranean, the mood in Italy is different. The head of the right-wing Lega, Matteo Salvini, who was interior minister until two and a half years ago, aggressively promoted a policy of closed ports.

But the successor governments with leftists and liberals also made work difficult for the non-governmental organizations. Salvini’s successor, the independent Luciana Lamorgese, had more sea rescue ships arrested than the Lega’s hardliners.

“Judges Above Any Doubt”

Before today’s decision in Trapani, one of the most important left-wing opinion makers in Italy, Marco Travaglio, is defending the actions of public prosecutors against the non-governmental organizations. The accusation that the trial was a political one is false, says the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.

“The judges and prosecutors in Trapani are beyond reproach,” says the journalist. “Until recently, the brother-in-law of the murdered anti-mafia prosecutor Falcone was responsible here – Alfredo Morvillo. He would never be influenced by political motives.”

tapped conversations

Prosecutors have been gathering information for five years. In their allegations against the members of the non-governmental organizations, the investigators base their allegations on intercepted conversations on the command bridge of the “Iuventa”, on the evaluation of chat logs, on photos and videos.

According to the prosecutors, they prove that the accused sea rescuers have arranged to meet with human traffickers to hand over migrants and refugees on the Mediterranean. In some cases, representatives of non-governmental organizations are even said to have returned boats and life jackets to the traffickers.

Saving lives is a humanitarian task, says editor-in-chief Travaglio, but if the allegations are true, then of course it’s a criminal offense. “Then it’s not about rescuing migrants on the high seas who were in danger of drowning. It’s simply about a handover that, regardless of whether there is intent or not, helps the traffickers.”

600 dead since the beginning of the year

The lawyers for the non-governmental organizations, on the other hand, criticize the actions of the public prosecutors in Trapani. Much of the supposed evidence has already been refuted, they emphasize. “In view of the fact that more than 22,000 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea in the last eight years, it is an absolute farce to even express such a thought,” says operations manager Schmidt about the accusation that she and the other suspects had worked with human traffickers.

Since January, almost 600 people have died or are missing on the central Mediterranean route from Libya and Tunisia to Italy alone. At the same time, the number of migrants and refugees arriving via the Mediterranean Sea in Italy has skyrocketed compared to last year – to almost 17,000 so far this year.

Decision on Iuventa trial against sea rescuers in Trapani

Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Rome, May 21, 2022 3:40 p.m

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