A 31-year-old migrant rescue boat captain who defied the law to get people ashore was released from custody in Italy Tuesday evening.
And Italy’s hard-line, anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is furious.
Salvini, a right-wing populist, has been locked in a public war of words with the German-operated Sea Watch 3 since it rescued dozens of migrants from the Mediterranean on June 12. After a weekslong standoff, the ship brought 40 migrants ashore on the Italian island of Lampedusa Saturday, defying an Italian security decree banning it from docking, and hitting a police speedboat in the process — which the captain, Carola Rackete, said was accidental.
Salvini cheered the arrest of Rackete but was freshly outraged when an Italian judge ruled Tuesday that the 31-year-old German should be released from house arrest. In her judgment, Judge Alessandra Vella said, Rackete had not broken the law by refusing to comply with the ban on entering Italy’s territorial waters, as she was “doing her duty saving human lives.”
The ruling prompted a furious outburst from Salvini. “For the Italian judiciary, ignoring the laws and ramming a tax police patrol boat are not sufficient reasons to go to jail,” he said on Facebook.
“This poor woman has only tried to kill five Italian police. I am speechless! What do you have to do to be sent to prison in Italy?"
He continued his tirade on Twitter, saying he planned to urgently reform the selection criteria for judges in Italy, “because this is not justice that serves a country that wants to grow.”
Italy’s National Magistrates’ Association fired back, saying Salvini was whipping up a climate of hatred against judges. In a statement, the union said that Salvini’s comments on social media had brought a torrent of insults and threats toward Vella, and noted that it was not the first time Salvini, the country’s most powerful politician, had denigrated judges for their rulings in immigration-related matters.
Last month, Salvini publicly singled out three magistrates who had challenged his hard-line policies, accusing them of pro-migrant sympathies. His comments resulted in death threats on social media against some of the magistrates, prompting the National Magistrates’ Association to warn Salvini was undermining the rule of law.
Rackete, the Sea Watch captain, said she was grateful for the judge’s ruling, and for the global support she had received for her stand. A demonstration in support, organised by Amnesty International, is to be held Wednesday in front of the Italian consulate.
“I was relieved about the judge's decision, which I see as a big win for solidarity with all people on the move including refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and against the criminalization of helpers in many countries across Europe,” she said.
Rackete had refused to obey Italy’s initial orders to disembark her passengers in Libya, where at least 40 migrants were killed in an airstrike on a detention center early Wednesday. In response to the strike, Sea Watch called for its ship, currently being held by Italian authorities, to be immediately released so that it could be used to transport migrants out of Libyan detention centers. “We are ready to do our part... she provides space for up to 500 people,” the German NGO said in a tweet.
As a result of Italy’s campaign to criminalize NGO-operated ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, which Salvini describes as “sea taxis” for human traffickers, the Sea Watch is the only boat remaining of the 10 that once plied the Central Mediterranean route. The U.N. refugee agency says the absence of the ships has made the crossing more deadly for those who attempt it.
Cover : 02 July 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne: A demonstrator holds a picture of Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete with the inscription "#FREECAROLA!" in her hand. On Tuesday, about 100 people demonstrated for the release of Sea Watch Captain Carola Rackete with a vigil in front of the Italian Consulate General in Cologne. Photo by: Federico Gambarini/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images