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Italy's highest court confirms NGO captain should not have been arrested for saving refugee lives

ITALY’S highest court confirmed today that a former captain of an NGO refugee-rescue ship should never have been arrested.

In June last year, Carola Rackete was captain of the civil rescue ship Sea Watch 3, which is operated by the German charity Sea Watch.

The ship’s crew saved the lives of 40 people from the central Mediterranean last summer and after a 17-day stand-off with Italy, Ms Rackete entered the port of Lampedusa without permission.

During the stand-off, the country’s then interior minister Matteo Salvini introduced new laws threatening to fine NGO ships up to €1 million (£852,000) for disembarking refugees in Italy without permission.

Upon landing, Ms Rackete was placed under house arrest and charged with defying the law created specifically to stop her. A judge released her days later.

Today, Italy's Supreme Court rejected the Agrigento public attorney's appeal against the court order to release her.

“This is an important verdict for all sea-rescue activists,” Ms Rackete wrote on Twitter this afternoon.

“No-one should be prosecuted for aiding people in need. The EU directive on ‘crimes of solidarity’ needs reform.”

The civil fleet expressed relief for Ms Rackete today but warned that the persecution against them is far from over.

Sea Eye spokesman Julian Pahlke told the Star that his organisation welcomed the decision.  

“It shows once again that sea rescue is everything but a crime. In fact saving lives at sea in an obligation,” Mr Pahlke said.

“Carola had every right to get those people to a safe place.

“It’s too early to say that the rule of Salvini is over but this could be a sign that the rule of law could be back.”

Axel Steier, co-founder of migrant-rescue organisation Mission Lifeline, said: "The ruling shows we can bring people in need to any safe haven, even if the state does not want it to.

“The Italian judiciary is very independent. In other countries, the state rule would have prevailed.”

“We are very happy that our Sea Watch allies have achieved this success.

“We hope that our former captain Claus-Peter Reisch will not have to pay the fine of €300,000 (£255,500) for entering the port in Pozzallo. It has not yet been decided.”

Earlier this week, the Sea Watch 3 and the Open Arms disembarked the 119 and 188 refugees they had rescued last week in Italy.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking — a ship operated by European charity SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders — saved the lives of 39 people off the coast of Libya in the morning.

“The Libyan maritime authorities have allocated Tripoli, an area of active conflict, as port of disembarkation for the 39 people we rescued today,” SOS Mediterranee wrote on Twitter in the afternoon.

“As stated by the [UN's refugee agency] UNHCR and the [International Organisation for Migration] IOM, Libya is not safe for refugees and migrants, especially during war.

“The Ocean Viking has requested an alternative.”

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