Acquittal for sea rescuers of the Iuventa


Trapani, Berlin, 19. April 2024

Today, the court has delivered its landmark decision, clearing all defendants following a seven-year odyssey. This case stands as the longest, most expensive, and most extensive proceedings against SAR NGOs, including two years of preliminary hearingwith over 40 hearings. It serves as a poignant testament to the extensive efforts invested by authorities in the criminalization of migration. While welcoming the outcome, the iuventa-crew expresses profound concern over the irreparable damage inflicted by the investigation and trial.

Sascha Girke, iuventa-defendant: "As a result of a flawed investigation driven by political motives, thousands of people have died in the Mediterranean or forcibly returned to war-torn Libya. Meanwhile, our ship has been left to decay, and we have been entangled in year-long proceedings. Additionally, the investigation squandered immense resources, including state funds amounting to some 3 million euro, in a bid to obstruct and defame civilian sea rescuers. Our case serves as a glaring symbol of the strategies European governments are putting in place in order to prevent people from reaching safety, leading to and normalising the death of thousands of people."

The Iuventa case marked the onset of a public smear campaign against civil sea rescue, aimed at legitimizing crackdowns on rescue efforts. The political nature of the case was, among other things, evidenced by the Ministry of Interior joining as a civil plaintiff. The charges were brought despite a lack of evidence, which became particularly clear on 28 February when, after years of vehement prosecution, the public prosecutor's office surprisingly requested that the case be dropped in its closing statement.

These crackdowns continue to this day, now focusing on administrative obstruction as in the case of the Piantedosi Decree, confirming the persistence of the Italian state in embargoing maritime rescue and its responsibility for the murder of thousands of people.

Moreover, thousands of people on the move continue to be routinely arrested under the same accusations - aiding and abetting unauthorized immigration – simply because they steered the boat or drove a car. Unlike the iuventa-crew, these individuals often lack the same level of support and attention and are frequently subjected to lengthy prison sentences.

To prevent a recurrence of the Iuventa case and to safeguard the rights of people on the move, the iuventa-crew therefore calls for the abolition of the criminalization of the facilitation of migration. They denounce the European "Facilitators' Package" and Article 12 of the Italian Immigration Act, which allow and encourage the criminalization of solidarity among and towards people on the move, and endanger fundamental rights. A case on the validity and interpretation of the Facilitators package is currently pending before the EU Court of Justice.

Despite its severe consequences, the Iuventa case has also become a symbol of transnational support, solidarity, and resilience. The iuventa-crew remains undeterred, affirming their commitment to resume rescue missions as soon as possible.

"While the decision to drop the charges is an immense relief for the Iuventa crew and other defendants, it’s important to remember that these proceedings are just one example of a much larger, troubling trend of criminalization and repression in Europe against people on the move and those in solidarity with them. Now the Iuventa crew is free, but the struggle against the unjust weaponization of laws like the 'facilitation' offense continues. Saving lives at sea is not a crime. Period.", says Allison West, Legal Advisor at ECCHR and trial observer.

"All over Europe, individuals and groups are being criminalized - for any kind of support for people on the move. Being in solidarity makes one suspicious. This is a distraction from the scandalous fact that EU authorities and member states are guilty of causing the deaths of thousands of people on the run, as well as collaborating with notorious human rights violators, such as the warlords in Libya.", says Wolfgang Kaleck, General Secretary, ECCHR

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