President emeritus calls upon AG to drop all charges in El Hiblu 'farce'

Prosecution's star witness, the Captain of the El Hiblu 1 was recently charged in a Spanish court with smuggling cocaine, activists say

Activists hold a banner saying 'Free The El Hiblu 3' outside the Attorney General's office (Photo: Moviment Graffitti)
Activists hold a banner saying 'Free The El Hiblu 3' outside the Attorney General's office (Photo: Moviment Graffitti)

President emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca has joined the chorus of voices calling upon the Attorney General to drop all charges against the three youths accused of hijacking the ship that had rescued them as they fled Libya, after news emerged that the prosecution’s star witness had recently been charged with cocaine smuggling in Spain.

Addressing a press conference outside the Attorney General’s office in Valletta, Coleiro Preca said she was there in solidarity with Abdalla, Amara, and Kader, the youths known as the El Hiblu 3.  

They had been only 15, 16, and 19 years old, respectively, when they arrived in Malta more than four years ago. Coleiro Preca described the three men as upstanding citizens who “however have spent 18 months in Maltese prison and endured 4 and a half years of compilation of evidence against them.” 

The trio had volunteered to translate to the rest of the 100 or so migrants rescued at sea by the El Hiblu, after the captain requested English speakers to assist. 

Describing the four year court case as a waste of time, the former President of the Republic questioned in whose interest it was “to continue this farce. Certainly not Malta's…It is a travesty of justice. we don't need more stains on our reputation.” 

She pointed to recent news that Salah El Hiblu had been charged with smuggling cocaine into Spain. “This is the witness on whom the case was based. He describes himself on Facebook as a Libyan pirate,” Coleiro Preca said, adding that the frequent changing of the ship's flag state could indicate “flag hopping” - a practice usually adopted to avoid detection by law enforcement. 

The former President reiterated her appeal that justice be served to the three men.

Academic Dr. Maria Pisani also addressed the press conference, emphasising the impact the charges have had on the three defendants.
"Four and a half years. It is enough. It is time to put an end to all of this. Three boys who dreamed of a better life, stuck in a fight that is not their own. To persist in this farce is just cruel.”

Malta had continued to terrorise them, Pisani said. "Enough, enough, enough. We were here 2,3,4 years ago. How long must they wait to be allowed to get on with their lives, study,  perhaps take a holiday?”

" We call on the AG to drop the charges and let these boys live their life."

Last to address the press conference was politician Prof. Arnold Cassola, who urged the authorities not to waste their time prosecuting children, hinting that he was aware of investigations into far more serious crimes which were not being given as much importance as this case. "They have a case where Identity Malta is suspected of collusion with estate agents, consultancies and revolving doors and parrots. 10 months ago there was a request for a bribe by infrastructure Malta officials. Commissioner, AG, please focus on these cases which are damaging Malta's reputation.” 

Acting as mediators and translators on the El Hiblu 1, the three boys had helped prevent the unlawful pushback of over 100 people to Libya and to defuse a tense situation at sea. But the Maltese authorities subsequently charged them with a number of crimes that could lead to life sentences.
El Hiblu owner charged over cocaine smuggling 

The group said that new evidence has surfaced, discrediting one of the main witnesses brought by the prosecution: Salah El Hiblu, the owner of the oil tanker that rescued the travellers. El Hiblu has been charged in Spain with smuggling cocaine and had subsequently failed to appear in court to testify. 
“These events cast doubt on his character, his credibility, and thus his testimony,” said the group Free the El Hiblu 3, in a statement to the press.

“This new evidence corroborates what the three have explained from the beginning and what critical testimonies from fellow passengers confirm: Abdalla, Amara, and Kader have not committed any crimes. In fact, they diffused a potentially dangerous situation when people were ready to jump overboard rather than be returned to Libya. Indeed, the authorities found no evidence of violence or weapons on board.” 

National and international support for the Attorney General to drop the charges is overwhelming and growing. Hundreds of individuals and organisations signed the open letter delivered to the Attorney General in September 2022, which now has over 1,300 signatures from individuals and organisations. Signatories include Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (President Emeritus of Malta), Dr Yana Mintoff (Association for Justice, Equality and Peace), Dr Maria Pisani (Head of Department, Youth Studies, University of Malta), over 10 members of the European Parliament, prominent members from the Catholic Church in Malta, as well as a range of other individuals. The letter has received support from a wide range of organisations in Malta and internationally, including Amnesty International and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).