Sea-Watch 3 captain freed and moved into hiding
An Italian judge ordered Carola Rackete to be released from house arrest where she had been held since Saturday amid calls from Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, for her prosecution.
The Lega leader has accused the charity of human trafficking.
But Sicily-based prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio said no evidence had been found that rescue vessels, such as the Sea-Watch 3, were implicated in a trafficking scheme to bring migrants to Europe.
Rackete, a German, faced up to 10 years in jail for endangering four police officers when she crashed into their small boat at the docks on Italy’s southernmost island as she brought around 41 Africans to land.
The 31-year-old said the treatment of rescued migrants was “inhumane, unacceptable and probably against every single constitution [the EU] claims to represent”.
“It is a disgrace to both words: Europe and union… not a single European institution was willing to assume responsibility until I was forced to do so myself,” she added.
On 12 June, Rackete’s ship rescued 53 migrants who were drifting on an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast.
After weeks at sea, she decided to dock at Lampedusa, dismissing a military order banning the charity ship from entering Italian waters.
Rackete was cheered by supporters outside court in the Sicilian city of Agrigento and demonstrations have been held in Germany calling for her release.
“There were some general threats against Carola,” the German charity Sea-Watch said. “That’s why we moved her to a secret place.”
Rackete called the decision by Judge Alessandra Vella “a great victory of solidarity towards all migrants, against the criminalisation of those who want to help them”.
Vella said Rackete had not broken the law, saying she was carrying out her duty and protecting life.
Deputy Prime Minister Salvini said he was “disgusted” by the ruling. Last month he introduced rules threatening anyone bringing migrants into Italian ports with fines of up to €50,000 and the seizure of their vessels.
Nearly 500,000 migrants have crossed the central Mediterranean to Italy since 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Since January an estimated 340 migrants have been reported dead attempting the journey.
Conditions on the charity boat were appalling. Picture credit: YouTube