Does Malta even have jurisdiction? The central question as the El Hiblu 3 trial commences

The El Hiblu 3’s imprisonment and prosecution constitutes a grave injustice, demand the trial be dismissed!

Today marks the beginning of the pre-trial Criminal Court hearings against the El Hiblu 3 discussing the preliminary pleas in response to the Bill of Indictment. The first subject in the pre-trial sittings will concern Malta’s jurisdiction for the alleged criminal acts. Abdalla, Amara and Kader, the El Hiblu 3, have been charged with terrorist activities, hijacking a ship, threatening a crew and several other serious offences on 8 November 2023. At least four out of a total of nine charges carry life sentences. The case is presided over by Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera.

After almost five years of legal and emotional limbo, pleas by the defence and prosecutions are expected to be heard today on the subject of Malta’s jurisdiction over events that allegedly took place on the El Hiblu 1 in March 2019. From what we know, a non-violent protest by the rescued migrants took place off the Libyan coast resulting in the prevention of their illegal push-back to Libya and the vessel changing course towards Europe. Malta’s Armed Forces stormed the ship soon after entering territorial waters in the morning of the 28th and declared to have found no violence going on.

It is evident that the Maltese state seeks to make an example of the three accused in order to deter others from righteously resisting push-backs to Libya, as these forced returns are a clear violation of international law, constituting a threat to returnees’ lives and wellbeing. The El Hiblu 3’s imprisonment and prosecution constitutes a grave injustice. Instead, they should be celebrated for their actions in preventing the forceful and illegal return of 100 lives to unsafe Libya.

As dropping the outrageous charges seems too difficult for the state, our hope lies with the reasonableness of the court. The serious allegations made by the Maltese Public Prosecutor’s Office must not only be proven but also fall within Malta’s jurisdiction. We reiterate our demand for the dismissal of the bill of indictment altogether! It is not too late to rectify this grave injustice.

Dismiss the trial! Resisting illegal push-backs to Libya is not a crime! Free the El Hiblu 3.

For press inquiries:
Free El Hiblu 3 campaign

African Media Association Malta
Blue Door Education
Border Violence Monitoring Network
borderline-europe – human rights without borders e.V.
Captain Support Network
Center of Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria
CPT – Aegean Migrant Solidarity
Dance Beyond Borders
de:border // migration justice collective
Demokratischen Jurist*innen Schweiz
JRS Malta
Legal Centre Lesvos
Migrants Commission, Archdiocese of Malta
Moviment Graffitti
Open Assembly Against Border Violence Lesvos
Refugees in Libya
Sea-Eye e.V.
Sea-Watch e.V.well-being
The People for Change Foundation

The story of the El Hiblu 3

On 26 March 2019, the El Hiblu 3 and around 100 other people were rescued from a rubber boat in distress. They were 15, 16 and 19-years-old at that time. The boat had departed from Libya heading for Europe. Co-ordinated by an aeroplane of the European Union’s EUNAVFOR Med operation, the people in distress were rescued by the commercial tanker El Hiblu 1 and reassured by the vessels’ crew that they would be brought to a port of safety in Europe. Yet, following the order by European authorities, the crew tried to return them to Libya – a place from which they had just escaped.

When the rescued passengers had realised they were being returned to Libya, they protested the attempted push-back. It was thanks to Amara’s, Abdalla’s and Kader’s translation and mediation between the frightened crew members and the equally terrified rescuees that had prevented an escalation of the situation. Subsequently, the ship had re-directed its course and steered north towards Malta. Upon arrival, Abdalla, Amara and Kader were arrested and accused of a multiplicity of serious crimes, including acts of terrorism. The three teenagers were immediately detained in a high-security wing in Malta’s adult prison before being transferred to age-appropriate youth correctional facilities. The three were imprisoned for almost eight months before being finally released on bail in November 2019. Since then, numerous Maltese and international organisations, activists, academics including reputable legal scholars, and public figures joined forces in campaigning for the trial to be dismissed.

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