Call to free El Hiblu teens who resisted Libyan pushback and remain under arrest

NGO Sea-Watch calls on Maltese government to release three teenagers charged with terrorism for resisting being pushed back to Libya

The merchant vessel El Hiblu 1 berthed in Malta after it was stormed by a special unit of the Armed Forces of Malta
The merchant vessel El Hiblu 1 berthed in Malta after it was stormed by a special unit of the Armed Forces of Malta

The NGO Sea-Watch has launched an international campaign calling for the release of three teenagers arrested on terrorism charges in Malta for resisting being pushed back to Libya.

In 2019, a rubber boat with over 100 people on board left the coast of Libya to reach safety in Europe. Although they were found and rescued by the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1, its crew was ordered by European authorities to return the rescued to Libya.

Upon disembarkation in Malta, three teenagers of 15, 16 and 19 years old, were arrested and accused of several crimes, including terrorism. But the accused insisted that they had escaped tyrannical and inhumane treatments in Libya to find life in Malta.

READ MORE: Migrants’ despair and anguish aboard the El Hiblu: Amnesty’s concern over Malta terror charges

“Through a collective protest on board, the 108 rescued people averted a push-back and prompted the crew to steer toward Malta. During the protest, nobody was injured and nothing was damaged. In public, they were described as ‘pirates’ and ‘terrorists’ but when the Maltese military stormed the vessel, they only met humans who were looking for protection,” Sea-Watch said in a statement.

The three teenagers were imprisoned for nearly eight months but were released on bail in November 2019, but still face severe charges that could result in years in prison.

“The attempt to avoid being pushed back has to be considered an act of self-defence and a way to protect life which can’t legitimately be punished,” Jelka Kretzschmar of Sea-Watch said.

Passengers of the El Hiblu 1, sea-rescue organisations, international lawyers, researchers, activists, human rights organisations in Malta and beyond have come together to call for the immediate dismissal of the trial.

“The three teenagers should be seen as heroes – they prevented 108 survivors from being returned to inhumane conditions in Libya!”, Maurice Stierl of rescue NGO Alarm Phone said.

The NGO has also produced a documentary to document their plight. The short documentary can be found on the campaign website: Free #ElHiblu3