The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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‘In whose interest is it that this persecution continues’ – former President on El Hiblu 3 case

Friday, 9 June 2023, 19:16 Last update: about 2 years ago

A group of activists met outside the Attorney General's Office in Valletta on Friday afternoon, demanding that the charges against the El Hiblu3 be dropped.

On 28 March 2019, three youngsters aged 15, 16 and 19, known as the El Hiblu 3, first set foot in Malta. They were among a group of migrants who fled Libya on a rubber boat. At risk of drowning, 108 people were rescued by the crew of the cargo ship El Hiblu 1.  

When they landed in Malta, the three were arrested. The prosecutors accused the "El Hiblu 3" - the name given to the three youngsters Amara, Kader and Abdalla - of having committed multiple crimes including acts amounting to terrorism - threatening the ship crew and being ringleaders in highjacking the ship, forcing it to head to Europe. A bill of indictment against the three has not yet been issued.

"Abdalla, Amara and Kader arrived in Malta more than four years ago. Acting as mediators and translators on the  El Hiblu 1, they helped to prevent the unlawful pushback of over 100 people to Libya and to diffuse a tense situation at sea. They were only 15, 16, and 19 years old respectively. Rather than celebrate their bravery, the Maltese authorities charged them with a number of crimes that could lead to life sentences," activists said.

President emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca addressed the protest. "These young people should be living a free and dignified life."

"Four and a half years adds up to 25% of Amara's young life," she said. "The compilation of evidence dragged on and on, yet there was no evidence that the teenagers used violence or weapons at any time," Coleiro Preca said.

The captain of the tanker, she said, had asked for help of English speakers and the three volunteered. "If it is a crime to speak English then yes, the Attorney General has every right to serve a bill of indictment. It it's not a crime to help communicate, then no indictments must be served and the charges must be dropped."

"In whose interest is it that this prosecution, or rather persecution continue? Certainly prolonging this farce is not in the interests of these three young men, not in the interests of their families and friends, and not in the interests of any of us in the wider community, as it is a total waste of the court's and our country's time and resources. Above all, it is not in our country's interests to proceed in a travesty of justice that is being watched keenly worldwide."

She said that the activists gathered on Friday to ask Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg to "do the right thing. To drop the charges."

"We also come with the recent news that the ship owner Salah el Hiblu is accused of smuggling tonnes of cocaine into Spanish waters. This is the same man on whose testimony the Malta prosecution mainly rests!"

In light of this, "is Salah's word credible? In view also of the fact that, Salah el Hiblu describes himself on Facebook, as a Libyan pirate, can our legal experts take him seriously?"

Further questions, she said, arise over the ship's flag changing from Turkish to a Palau flag.

She said: "According to the US authorities, 'bad actors may falsify the flag of their vessels to mask illicit trade. They may also repeatedly register with new flag states or as it is called, ' flag hopping', to avoid detection.'"

Activists said that national and international support for the Attorney General to drop the charges "is overwhelming and growing. Hundreds of individuals and organisations have signed our open letter since we delivered it to the Attorney General in September 2022. In total, the open letter now has 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 of 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)."

"The Attorney General has not deigned to respond to our open letter, despite having received it over eight months ago. Thus, on Friday, June 9th  at 17:30, representatives from Maltese civil society will reconvene at the Attorney General's office at Admiralty House, 53 South Street, Valletta, activists said."

Maria Pisani also spoke. "Enough is enough," she said. Malta, she said, continues to terrorise these three people. "How long must they wait to be allowed to get on with their lives, study,  perhaps take a holiday?"

"These are three boys who dreamed of a better life," she said. "The three of them are stuck in a fight that is not their own."

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola also spoke and said that the authorities have far more important cases to focus on, asking the AG to stop wasting time on children. "There are far more serious situations," he said, mentioning a few examples such as an alleged case of corruption at Identity Malta.


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