Front Line Defenders (FLD) has strongly condemns the judicial harassment and defamation campaign against human rights defenders working to protect the lives of migrants in the Mediterranean sea. The criminal investigations opened against human rights defender Carola Rackete, a member of the Sea Watch NGO, and ten crew members of the humanitarian ship Iuventa (known as “Iuventa 10”) are examples of the pattern of criminalisation and delegitimisation of the work of migrant rights defenders in Italy.
German human rights defender Carola Rackete is the captain of the humanitarian ship Sea Watch 3, which belongs to the homonymous German NGO. The Italian prosecutors summoned Rackete for interrogation on 9 July, after opening an investigation on charges of aiding illegal immigration, punishable with up to 15 years in jail.
On 29 June 2019, Rackete was arrested for docking in the port of Lampedusa, Sicily, to disembark 42 migrants who had been rescued two weeks earlier off the Libyan coast, defying a ban by the Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini. He was initially put under house arrest, on charges of breaking an Italian naval blockade (under the recently approved decree known as Salvini bis) and for accidentally ramming a police boat that was trying to block her manoeuvrers.
However, on 2 July a judge in charge of preliminary investigations ruled that Rackete had not acted against the law, stating that the new decree could not be applied to humanitarian rescue operations. The decree introduced new measures against migrant rights defenders, including fines of up to €50,000 and the confiscation of vessels.
In her decision, the judge also declared that Rackete was “doing her duty saving human lives”. Rackete had decided not to disembark the migrants in Libya, as suggested by Italian authorities, because this would have been a violation of the international maritime law, which defines “delivery to a place of safety” as a part of the search and rescue obligations.
FLD has demanded that the Italian authorities should immediately drop all charges against migrant rights defenders, lift the ban on entering the ports for humanitarian rescue ships and ensure that its officials refrain from statements that stigmatize the work of migrant rights defenders in the country.