The rescue ship »Iuventa« (archive)
Photo: Elio Desiderio / dpa
In Sicily, a court hearing was held for the first time on Saturday as to whether there will be a trial against four German sea rescuers from the crew of the "Iuventa".
It was decided in a first hearing that the public will remain excluded for the time being.
The application of a coalition of various NGOs, including Amnesty International and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), was thus rejected at the request of the public prosecutor.
According to Italian law, it is not customary to allow observers to attend a preliminary hearing.
“Something like this shouldn’t be decided behind closed doors”
Allison West from ECCHR justified the application with the possible effects of the process that has been prepared for five years on the basic values: "Something like this should not be decided behind closed doors," West told SPIEGEL.
The private sea rescuers have saved an estimated 14,000 lives in the Mediterranean since 2014, when Italy ended its Mare Nostrum mission.
Private sea rescue has been systematically criminalized not only since the establishment of the "Iuventa" by Italian authorities in 2017.
She is accused of cooperating with Libyan people smugglers.
more on the subject
Migrants: Hunt for "Iuventa" by Maria-Mercedes Hering, Martin Knobbe and Andreas Wassermann
Amnesty International, ECCHR and numerous other civil society organizations not only criticize the fact that the indictment binds both the forces and the hands of the sea rescue workers.
They also criticize the questionable methods used to conduct the investigations.
The ship was bugged, lawyers and journalists were wiretapped.
Corresponding protocols are part of the 30,000-page indictment.
The legal team led by Nicola Canestrini was unable to discover "a single piece of evidence" against his clients.
He considers the process sought by the public prosecutor's office to be politically motivated: "We would like to give the public the right to know what is being negotiated."
Transparency is "a core value of democracy and the rule of law".
The Federal Foreign Office and the UN are calling for an end to the investigation
In the hearing, which lasted almost four hours, he pointed out that in comparable processes "even in Egypt, in Turkey or in Northern Ireland" the public was granted such a right to observe.
The public prosecutor then signaled that they wanted to reconsider their position.
According to Canestrini, the next hearing, scheduled for the beginning of June, will deal with two further points which, in his opinion, speak against opening the main hearing.
Firstly, the indictment was not available in the language of the accused, secondly, in his opinion, it was in principle an unconstitutional charge.
Both the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Federal Foreign Office are calling for the investigation to be stopped.
The start of the negotiations in Trapani was accompanied by demonstrations of solidarity at the port.
Within sight of the demonstrators, the "Iuventa" is rusting away - and the "Sea Watch 4" is preparing to set sail again soon.