El Hiblu 3: The trial that should have never started

We believe it is not too late for the State to do the right thing even at this late stage of proceedings. This is a trial that should have never started in the first place

The trial against two young men accused of hijacking the El Hiblu 1, an oil tanker, started yesterday in front of Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera.

This is a trial that should have never even reached this stage. Indeed, there should have never even been a prosecution.

The two men, Amara Kromah and Abdalla Bari, are accused of carrying out ‘acts of terrorism’, charges that human rights campaigners say are trumped up.

A third men, Koni Tiemoko Abdoul Khader, who had to stand trial alongside them has absconded from Malta and will have to be tried separately.

The three men, known as the El Hiblu 3, risk serving life sentences for acting as mediators between the ship’s crew and the group of migrants they formed part of, which had just been rescued.

The case goes back to 2019 when the 108 migrants on board the ship feared that the captain would take them back to Libya from where they had just escaped.

Compelling testimony by several witnesses throughout the compilation of evidence showed how the three men acted as interlocutors between the rescued migrants and the ship’s crew during the ordeal. They also testified that no violence or threats were made.

The only contrary evidence was provided by the ship’s captain during radio communication with the Maltese authorities in which he said his vessel had been hijacked by pirates.

Prosecutors insist that the three men, who were the only ones on board who could speak English, coerced the ship’s captain to sail to Malta instead of Libya.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary the Attorney General decided to press on with the serious charges but only issued the bill of indictment last November, more than four-and-a-half years later. This alone suggests the matter was not as clear cut as it was made out to be.

Amnesty International, the international human rights group, has called the case “a travesty of justice” and many other human rights campaigners have petitioned the Maltese government to drop the case.

It should not be hard for any right-thinking individual who has followed the compilation of evidence to reach the conclusion that the El Hiblu 3 are simply being made to pay the price so that the Maltese State can appear tough with migrants.

The case against the three men, two of which were still minors in 2019, is nothing short of a bullying tactic against the most vulnerable of individuals – unbelievable coming from a government that has made the championing of civil rights is cri de coeur.

This leader reiterates its support to the pleas being made by human rights defenders, not least Amnesty International, to the Maltese State to drop the charges and allow these three young men the chance to continue with their lives.

These three men have had their lives suspended for the past four years in a cruel twist to the good deed they believed they were doing when acting as interlocutors with the ship’s crew.

We believe it is not too late for the State to do the right thing even at this late stage of proceedings. This is a trial that should have never started in the first place.

But if dropping the charges is too big a step for the State to take because it would appear as an embarrassing volte face, this leader can only hope that the judge presiding over the trial can see through the whole charade.