It will be exactly four years next week since three then-teenage irregular migrants landed in Malta and were charged with hijacking a cargo ship that had rescued them and their fellow 105 passengers from a rubber dinghy after fleeing Libya.
They came to be known as the El Hiblu 3, named after the ship they are accused of having commandeered when the rescued migrants saw they were returned to Libya.
They instead eventually made port in Malta on 28 March 2019 after an intervention by the three teenagers.
Of the three – then 15, 16 and 19 – only one is still a teenager and activists gathered in front of the Valletta law courts this morning demanded the “unjust” charges against them – for which Malta has been heavily criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International – be immediately dropped.
The teenagers – Abdalla, Kader, and Amara – were arrested upon their arrival in Malta, detained for seven months and accused of terrorism charges before the courts.
The El Hiblu 3, however, argue they merely served as mediators and translators between the rescuers and the rescued when the latter group panicked when they realised they were being brought back to Libya after being rescued from their sinking dinghy.
Today’s protest came just before their next court hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Speaking in Valletta this morning, Moviment Graffitti’s Christine Cassar stressed the three teenagers had saved themselves and their fellow irregular migrants from being returned to “hell” in Libya.
She quoted a former Libyan detention camp detainee’s description of how, ‘Every day, one after the other, we were brutally beaten and tortured with electricity by our guards. They were merciless’.
“We would like to remind the Maltese State of the basic humanitarian right that everyone seeking protection has the right to legal protection and immunity from prosecution,” she said.
“We are asking that all charges be dropped now.”
Regine Psiala from the African Media Association observed how people who try to uphold basic human rights are being punished for it.
“These three men are heroes, not criminals. They acted in defence of the human rights of others, and now they are being punished for it.
“This whole legal circus by the Maltese authorities against Amara, Kader and Abdalla, which is abusively called justice, started in 2019. It was horrible. How could you react, if out of nowhere, you are accused of being a terrorist?
“Now imagine if such a charge is against your teenage son, brother, nephew, or grandson? Because Amara, Kader and Abdalla were teenagers in 2019. Teenagers running away from countries that couldn’t protect them. They resisted being sent back to Libya.
“Libya today is almost a no man’s land, a place of rape, torture and death. They refused to die like stray dogs in Libya and they were right.”
Cetta Mainwaring, speaking on behalf of the Free the El Hiblu 3 Campaign, explained how the three teenagers had acted as translators and mediators between a frightened crew and scared passengers.
“When the tanker attempted to return them to Libya, people were terrified and threatened to jump overboard rather than be returned to the violence they had just fled in Libya and the crew asked the El Hiblu 3 to help restore calm,” Mainwaring explained.
“That the charges against them are unjust could not be clearer. These three young men should be free to live dignified lives,” she said.
“Translators are not terrorists. Resisting pushbacks to Libya is not a crime.”
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