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Italian prosecutors ask judge to drop the charges against the Iuventa refugee rescuers

ITALIAN prosecutors asked a judge at a court in Sicily today to drop human smuggling charges that they brought against four refugee rescue activists eight years ago.

Kathrin Schmidt, Dariush Beigui, Sascha Girke and Uli Troder were all crew members of refugee rescue ship Iuventa, which saved the lives of more than 14,000 people in the central Mediterranean between 2016 and 2017.

The Italian secret services began spying on the ship’s crew in September 2016, based on allegations from a security guard from another NGO ship with links to Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini.

Italian authorities seized the Iuventa in August 2017 and initially warned 10 members of the crew that they were under investigation.

Sharges of “aiding and abetting illegal immigration to Italy” were brought against Ms Schmidt, Mr Beigui, Mr Girke and Mr Troder in March 2021.

A preliminary hearing, marred by the prosecution’s procedural errors and a lack of proper translation for the German defendants, only began in May 2022.

At the first of the final four days of preliminary hearings the prosecution admitted on Wednesday there was no evidence to support its accusations and that the people they rescued entered Italy legally - meaning no crime had ever been committed in the first place.  

“We have a phrase in German. ‘One eye is laughing, but the other is crying’,” Mr Beigui told The Morning Star outside the court.

“I’m happy that this trial that has hung over me for the past eight years could nearly be over. But I am furious that this ever happened in the first place.”

The preliminary trial will continue until Saturday, despite today’s surprising events, when the judge is expected to decide on whether to drop the charges or proceed to trial.

The activist-run distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone also welcomed today’s news.

“It seems to us more evident than ever that there is a political will to empty the Mediterranean of the uncomfortable gazes and critical voices of those who are able to document the border violence and rights violations that take shape there every day,” Alarm Phone member Chiara Denaro told the Star.

“We stand by the Iuventa crew in full solidarity until the final decision is made.”

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