Statement of the defendant DariushOctober 13, 2023
we have now spent some time together in this courtroom, but I would like to introduce myself again.
I’m Dariush, 45 years old and I’m a punk rocker from Hamburg in northern Germany. I started working on ships in the port of Hamburg in 1999.
Three years later, I successfully completed my training and since then I have been a captain on inland waterways ever since. In 2016, I was on the iuventa for the first time. As an inland skipper, I had no experience at sea or in sea rescue, so I was glad not to have to go on board as captain right away.
One month earlier this would have been the case. They were desperate for a captain. Luckily, they found someone else. I wouldn’t have been able to get time off so spontaneously with my paid work.
I would also like to emphasise this at this point.
Since I was on the iuventa for the first time, I have been on many other missions in the Mediterranean. Only this year several times. I have never received any money for these missions. I paid for my own flights, and I sailed during my holidays and free time. Of course, I didn’t have to pay for the food we ate on board, but that’s all..
On one of my missions I was the so-called “puller”. So I stood on the railing during the rescues, helping people off their boats or on our RHIB (iuventa’s rescue boats) on board of the iuventa.
Over a period of two weeks, I held the hands of nearly 700 people and pulled them on board. Many did not have the strength to climb aboard on their own. I didn’t know beforehand how the bodies of people who hadn’t eaten for days or were completely dehydrated would feel.
I have never seen such exhausted people before in my life. I will never forget the look on their faces.
They didn’t look at us and say “As agreed, here you are. Everything went according to plan.” These people knew that if we hadn’t found them, they would have drowned a few hours later.
For years, I was part of the bridge crew on all these missions. Always as navigator, sometimes as captain. During one of my early missions, we were contacted by radio by a large merchant vessel. They had a dinghy in sight. There were about 130 people on board.
The crew of the merchant vessel could not intervene themselves, their side was too high.
But they radioed that they would stay on site so that we would have a chance to find the dinghy.
If the captain had continued with his vessel and just radioed us the position of the boat, we would have had a very difficult time finding the dinghy, because we were several hours away from the position we were given.
Only a few days earlier, the MRCC Rome had given us the exact position of a boat with instructions to go there to rescue the people. Despite our radar and 6 crew members keeping a lookout with binoculars, we could not see the boat until we were within 1.5 nautical miles away..
It’s hard to find boats in the sea. Very hard.
The iuventa is not very high, just a few metres. We could only get a small visual radius. So we were grateful when the captain of the merchant ship said they would stay with the boat. Unfortunately, that was and is not something that can be taken for granted.
We sailed as fast as the iuventa would allow. A modern, fast rescue ship would have covered the distance in half the time. Maybe even faster. Our iuventa, an old, converted fishing trawler, was slow.
Too slow, that day.
Half an hour before we arrived at the scene, the captain radioed again: “You can slow down. The boat just capsized. It doesn’t look like anyone survived.”
As is it often the case on the Mediterranean, there was little time to think.
The only thing we could do for these people was to ensure that they were buried with dignity. And that their relatives should be informed.
Too many had already disappeared in the Mediterranean without a trace.
We started to think about where to put so many bodies on board.
Half an hour later we were at the remains of the boat.
It was the quietest, saddest, most lifeless spot I had ever been.
We wouldn’t have had to worry about where to put the bodies. 130 people had simply disappeared in such a short time.
We were only able to find and recover three bodies. From our RHIB, I brought them on board.
I put them first on our deck and then in body bags.
I will never forget their looks either.
In 2015 and 2016, an increasing number of sea rescue initiatives were launched.
Being a left-wing activist, it was natural for me to see where I could get involved.
Before I went on board the iuventa for the first time, I just thought: “I work on ships, maybe I can help”.
That’s just how we do it.
Through newspaper articles and the internet, I had noticed that more and more boats were capsizing in the Mediterranean. More and more people were drowning.
To do something about these deaths, more and more people organised themselves into different groups and NGOs.
Many thought that all they had to do was report more about how many people were drowning in the Mediterranean. Then something would change. We thought one thing was clear.
You don’t let people drown. Full stop.
People in distress at sea cannot wait for Europe to finish its discussions, or for our process to be stopped for good. They need immediate support.
Until European governments do their duty and send enough rescue ships themselves, every day a civilian rescue ship is caputred means more people will die. In the long run, we hoped at that time, the policy would have to change, but in the meantime, let’s hope fewer and fewer people drown.
This was my motivation in 2016. Before I went on board the iuventa for the first time.
I was aware that the people on the boats were the least to blame for getting into this situation. It is our lifestyle, the European lifestyle, that is driving people to flee.
It is European-induced climate change that is making whole regions uninhabitable. European companies are exploiting the world. It doesn’t matter whether if raw materials and mineral resources are stolen or if people have to work under the worst conditions. For our food, textiles and technical devices.
These are the push factors that drive people to flee.
And European laws then force people to get on the boats.
The first time I was down there, in the waters north of Libya, and saw such an overcrowded dinghy with my own eyes for the first time, something added to my theoretical approach. Practice.
To have people in front of you. See and hear them. Listen to what they have been through, why they have fled.
And also the intensity of each and every rescue.
The hours of searching for a boat, even if the MRCC Rome had given us the exact position.
The relief of sighting a boat when it hasn’t yet capsized . The moment when the RHIB informs you by radio that the people on board are relatively well. And I stress that I don’t mean that these people were not in distress.
Imagine for a moment that this building we are in is on fire.
You, Mr. Prosecutor, make it out unscathed, only your clothes are a bit burnt and you have a few abrasions. As you run down the steps in front of the building, you see on the steps, and this is just an example, the judge lying with a broken leg, one of his sleeves still on fire. Then a paramedic who sees them would also say “This person is clearly in distress, but he is relatively well.”
He would not have written in his report for each and every person that he or she had also come out of the burning house. That is self-evident in this situation.
It should be equally obvious to everyone that any boat in the Mediterranean with people fleeing on board is in distress. Frontex has published guidelines on how to decide when a boat is in distress.
Every boat that I have supported in the Mediterranean has fulfilled almost all the points on that Frontex list, and one of them is enough for it to constitute an emergency at sea.
For us on the bridge of the iuventa, the radio message that the people were relatively well meant that there were no dead or seriously injured on board. More importantly, it meant that the boat did not look like it was going to capsize in the next few minutes.
That’s enough for us to say that the people are relatively well.
Every time I saw the RHIB approach a boat for the first time, I was extremely nervous. Any manoeuvre could capsize such a fragile boat. With every person the RHIB team managed to get off the boat, the boat became a little more stable in the water.
And for every person who came aboard the RHIB, it meant they would not drown today.
We wanted to get people finally out of their floating coffins. These boats are nothing else.
Accordingly, the joy was great every time really everyone from one boat was safely on board of the iuventa. Crew and guests often hugged each other, crying with relief.
But it was not always like that.
We have seen boats capsize. People fearing for their lives. We stood by capsized boats in the dark of the night and could only save a few. The cries became fainter and fainter, fewer and fewer. We found floating dead bodies, and we had people on board who had just drowned and people who had almost drowned. Some survived only thanks to the medical care provided by our small hospital.
I remember every particularly bad case where our medics fought for hours.
I will also never forget the looks on their faces when they came to the bridge for a quick rest and to report on the patient’s condition.
When a boat capsizes, when people are in the water, decisions have to be made in seconds.
If it went well, we could save everyone. If it went well.
It is important and right to be out there. Every single person who doesn’t have to drown is worth a ship patrolling for days. The time it takes a rescue vessel to reach a boat in distress can be a matter of life and death. That was a painful lesson for me on my first mission. For 130 people, being half an hour late meant death.
During this process, and also when I read media reports, I sometimes get the feeling that we forgot that we are talking about people. Not numbers or statistics.
Be honest, during my last paragraph, were you really thinking about 130 people, or an abstract number, not linked to feelings?
I am standing here in court today because in June 2017 I was captain of the iuventa.
During this operation, most of the boats we assisted had been previously reported to us by the MRCC Rome. Every rescue, even when we found the boats in distress by chance, was coordinated and authorised by Rome.
I have never received any calls, emails or other messages from Libya.
Italy not only gave us information about where the boats were. The MRCC also gave us instructions on what to do once we found the boat.
As only we on the ground could assess the situation, there was sometimes no time to wait for a response from the MRCC. When a quick response was needed, we informed the MRCC of our actions as soon as possible.
Sometimes we were just asked to stabilise the situation by handing out life jackets and checking for medical emergencies. The MRCC Rome would then send a larger vessel in our direction to take the people on board. If it was not possible to do this so quickly, we were instructed to take the people on board ourselves first, and then transfer them to another vessel later.
Sometimes it happened that the MRCC Rome gave us an instruction that I find extraordinary. If the MRCC came forward with a distress case where the boat was still within the 12-mile zone of Libya, in other words in territorial waters.
The Law of the Sea clearly says that even then you have to go to a boat.
But the MRCC Rome told us to go to the 12-mile limit and wait for the boat there.
If I had decided that as captain, I would have made myself liable to prosecution.
That was the first time I began not only to criticise but also to question the way the Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome worked. How could they give us such an order?
Maritime Law clearly states that if a boat is in distress and you have the opportunity to help it, you must do so. Unless you are endangering your crew or your vessel. Even if the boat in distress is in national waters, i.e. within a country’s 12 nautical mile zone.
You must go there and rescue the people.
MRCC Rome knew and informed us that the boat was in distress.
Not going there immediately is a violation of Maritime Law.
And even worse, it increases the danger for the people on the boat.
We followed the order and waited on this arbitrarily drawn line. We could only see the boat through our binoculars. Sometimes it took hours for it to reach us.
We waited. And we hoped.
The whole crew knew that if the boat was going to capsize, our RHIBs would have to get to it as quickly as possible. And everyone knew that if the boat capsized, a lot of people would drown.
We couldn’t be that fast.
How could the MRCC give us such an order? Several times!
It was even worse for me in May 2017 when the MRCC Rome suddenly pulled us out of an ongoing operation.
The day started with us supporting people on three wooden boats and taking them on board the iuventa on the orders of the MRCC.
Later we were ordered to go to another rescue ship, which was to take the people to Italy.
While our RHIBS were transferring the people from the iuventa to the other vessel, the MRCC Rome contacted us again.
We were instructed to take about twenty of the people to Lampedusa ourselves on the iuventa.
Even though the Rome MRCC knew what we could and could not do with the iuventa. We could only take people on board for short periods and short distances. We had only one toilet for the guests, hardly any supply facilities and above all not enough weather protection on our decks.
The crew of the other rescue vessel also wondered about the order, they had enough space for everyone who was on board with us.
Nevertheless, the MRCC insisted that we take twenty people to Italy.
It was only after we sent an email explaining our safety concerns in detail that the instruction was changed. We were told to keep only five people on board and take them to Lampedusa.
In the meantime, other NGO ships in the area had radioed in.
They had eight boats in distress around them and they asked us for help.
As a captain, I am breaking Maritime Law if I do not respond to a distress call.
To our incomprehension, the MRCC Rome forbade us to go to the distress calls. We were threatened that if we tried to help, the MRCC would deny responsibility for the five rescued people who were still on board.
We abandoned the ongoing operation and headed north.
For a long time could hear the other NGO boats on the radio. More and more boats were in distress around them.
It took us 1.5 days to get to Lampedusa and just as long to get back.
In those 3 days there were 21 boats in distress in the area.
Five boats disappeared.
The thousand or so people on them, most probably drowned.
Did the Rome MRCC knowingly accept their deaths when it gave its order?
You may wonder why I am telling you this, what it has to do with these proceedings?
Apart from the obvious reason that I am telling you about how we followed the authority’s instructions despite being convinced otherwise, there is another reason for telling you.
And that makes the decision made earlier and the whole situation, every single day of proceedings in this courtroom, even more bitter.
It was only after the Iuventa was seized in August (2017), that we were allowed to see the files. They say that the bridge of the Iuventa was bugged and that we were bugged for three months.
There is one other piece of information in the files.
Our short stay in Lampedusa was used to plant the bug, or the bugs, on the ship.
According to the files, on the very day we arrived in Lampedusa, on the orders of the MRCC Rome, the recording of the conversations on the bridge of the iuventa began.
I wish the prosecution had had to listen to the cries of the thousand people from the five boats that disappeared.
They drowned so that we could be investigated.
I wish even more that no people had to die so that I could be investigated.
Instead, the court has hundreds of DVDs of the conversations we had on the bridge. How we talked about homesickness, exchanged drinking and altercation stories or cried together when we once again couldn’t save all the people from a boat and there were corpses in front of us, again.
At this point I would like to emphasise once again, that placing the bug on the iuventa did not lead to any results. Nothing was recorded that could prove our alleged guilt.
We certainly expressed our criticism of European and Italian politics.
Or we criticised the MRCC Rome.
But nothing legally incriminating was found in the entire recordings.
Safe, legal escape routes would make investigations like the one against us unnecessary and impossible. Civilian sea rescue operations would no longer be necessary.
Safe, legal escape routes would save people from Libyan camps and prevent deaths in the Mediterranean.
Shouldn’t one of Europe’s goals be to prevent people from working themselves to death in Libyan camps? That no one should have to fear and experience torture, rape or death on a daily basis just because they flee to Europe?
Isn’t it an important part of Europe’s history that such camps should never happen again?
And aren’t international agreements and conventions supposed to protect the lives and rights of refugees?
The central Mediterranean is not only the biggest graveyard in the world, in the proverbial sense..
At least 2800 people have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of these preliminary hearings.
Since the seizure of the iuventa the number has risen to 9200.
I am glad that I was able to save people from drowning during my missions, including the one on 18.06.2017.
The prosecution believes the events of that day will incriminate us and show what they think we did.
But what happened that day, north of Libya, in the Mediterranean?
As every morning, the night watch on the bridge e-mailed our exact position to the MRCC Rome. If they received a distress call, they would knew if we were close enough to help.
A few minutes later, at 04.20 a.m., the MRCC Rome called us by satellite phone.
I was woken up and was on the bridge from then until the end of the day. In the call, the MRCC Rome informed us of a boat in distress. It was still in Libyan territorial waters and we were to leave and wait north of the position given. As soon as the boat entered international waters, we were to rescue the people.
Again, with this instruction, the MRCC Rome unnecessarily endangered the people on the boat and asked us to break Maritime Law. The MRCC did not tell us to go to the boat and report if it was in distress. The call said they had the position of a distress case for us to go there and rescue the people.
At 05.44 a.m. we had visual contact.
But there was not just one boat in sight, there were four. By now they had reached international waters. We could see three wooden boats. The fourth boat was the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.
Fifteen minutes later, we were close enough to the boats to begin the rescue.
Supporting three boats at the same time is difficult. You have to decide quickly. Your decision can mean the difference between people drowning and not. In a matter of minutes, we had to assess whether one of the boats was particularly unstable. We had to know if there were people on one or more of the boats who needed immediate medical attention. The presence of the so-called Libyan coast guard made it even more complicated. They had already shot at fishermen and even the Italian coastguard.
Only a few weeks ago, the Italian coast guard explicitly warned us that the so-called Libyan coast guard was dangerous. And even if, as is often the case, all they wanted to do was steal the boats’ engines, this made the situation even more dangerous than it was already.
The so-called Libyan coastguard has never been about saving lives. Until today.
In a situation like this, I cannot withdraw and think about how to decide. All these factors have to be taken into account immediately.
A stressful situation for the entire crew.
We put our RHIBs in the water and at 06.20 a.m. life jackets could be distributed to the first boat.
We knew that morning, that there were two other rescue ships in our vicinity.
The Seefuchs of the NGO Sea-Eye and the Vos Hestia of Save the Children. The latter was already on its way to our position.
I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in a situation like that can imagine how relieving it is not to be alone anymore.
To suddenly hope. If none of the boats capsized, together we could really manage to get all the people safely onto our boats. From all three boats.
To think that perhaps no one would drown here today.
At 06.30 a.m. the Vos Hestia arrived.
The crew immediately started to put their RHIBS into the water and support the other two wooden boats.
There is a photograph in the files showing the Vos Hestia’s RHIBs. It says below the picture that they are ours. It is clear that neither of the two RHIBs in the picture are ours, from the iuventa rescue. All you have to do is compare the picture with pictures of our RHIB.
The RHIBs from both ships first distributed life jackets to everyone on the three wooden boats, then our RHIB towed one of the boats, Target Vessel B, alongside the iuventa. This allowed us to get people on board as quickly as possible. At the same time, the Vos Hestia’s RHIBs started to evacuate people from the other two boats.
By 7.30am, everyone from the three wooden boats was on the two rescue ships. From two of the boats on the Vos Hestia, from one with us on the iuventa.
We began making preparations to destroy the wooden boats. The team from our little RHIB Lilly had taken a large axe from the iuventa to make a hole in the hull of the boats to sink them, or at least render them unusable.
But just as we were getting everyone off the boat, one of our crew spotted something on the horizon. It soon became clear that it was a dinghy.
The Vos Hestia was the On Scene Commander, so I radioed her captain to discuss wheter we should go to the boat.
It was clear to me that it was in distress. Like any boat that’s either overcrowded, or doesn’t have enough nautical equipment, not enough fuel or provisions to reach a port independently and safely.
As with every rescue, every step was coordinated with the MRCC Rome. They instructed us to transfer the people from the iuventa to the Vos Hestia before we set off with the iuventa.
We asked that our RHIB be allowed to go to the boat immediately to stabilise it. The Vos Hestia’s two RHIBs were enough to transfer the people.
It was clear to me that we had to hurry with this as well.
There was no time to destroy the wooden boats at this stage. If the dinghy capsized, the RHIB alone would not be enough. You could only get a few people out of the water and then there would be no more room on the RHIB.
In the statements about the events on the 10.09 you can hear what exactly happens when a dinghy capsizes. I was already back then told, that the only reason so many people were saved that day was because a helicopter dropped life rafts.
I wanted to quickly follow our RHIB to assist.
Destroying the wooden boats was no longer a priority. Helping people in danger is more important to me.
In order to set off with the iuventa, we had get the shuttle trips to Vos Hestia done quickly. There were two of the wooden boats drifting between the two ships. They were in the way and the RHIBs had to circle around them every time. That’s why I instructed the team on our small RHIB, Lilly, to tow the two boats out of the way.
That’s how one of the pictures was taken, which is not only in our files, but it has also appeared again and again in the press. Our little Lilly, a tiny dinghy, towing a wooden boat.
I gave this order to get the boats pout of the way.
So that we could shuttle faster and then go to the dinghy.
I didn’t want people to drown again because we were too slow. As I had experienced once before.
Over and over again, we read in the press and in the files that our RHIB Lilly wanted to take the boats to the smugglers, or even directly to Libya. Anyone who seriously considers this, has no idea about shipping.
The RHIB Lilly was small and slow. In fact, Lilly was even too weak to pull both wooden boats at the same time. They had to be towed one at a time the few metres to keep them out of the way.
We were 17 nautical miles from Libya, or 30 kilometres. It would have taken the Lilly 10 hours to get to Libya that way. Per boat. With the return trips, it would have taken 60 hours.
And to say that we would have taken the boats to someone is completely absurd, even from a purely technical point of view. Why should we tow the boats a few hundred metres to hand them over there? Even that would have taken hours with Lilly, Lilly would have had to drag each boat one by one.
The boats that came later to get the wooden boats were faster, stronger and more manoeuvrable.
They never needed to rely on us.
The RHIB Lilly only towing the boats because I had given the instructions to move them so far away that they would no longer be an obstacle.
I took a picture later that morning when we were at the dinghy. The photo shows a small boat towing the three wooden boats. I can’t remember who was on the bridge, but I remember what I felt like to see that. That feeling of powerlessness.
I remember saying something like, “Shit, they’re taking the boats back. It’s terrible, in a few days the boats will be on the road again, people will be risking their lives on them again.”
I later emailed this photo to the back office and told them how horrible it was for us to see the boats being towed back. We experienced this several more times during this operation and I raised it repeatedly in my emails.
At 8.40 a.m. we finished the shuttling to Vos Hestia and I drove the iuventa to the fourth boat. It took us about 25 minutes to get to the dinghy and our RHIB. After the RHIB had shuttled everyone from the dinghy to the iuventa, it was destroyed. The hoses were slit open and the engine was sunk. Just as our operational concept called for. As we have always done when time allowed, when there were no unexpected, more important priorities.
While we were supporting the people from this fourth boat on the day, the crew of the Seefuchs, who were still in the vicinity, spotted a fifth boat at 09:50 a.m.
The fifth boat of the day was also initially still in Libyan waters. The Seefuchs maintained visual contact and reported that the dinghy was approaching our position. The Vos Hestia, as the largest vessel on the scene, and therefore the On Scene Commander, gave the order to assist this dinghy.
So at 10.45 a.m. our RHIB set off in the direction of the fifth boat. As the dinghy had come to within 1.5 nautical miles of us, they quickly reached it and distributed life jackets again. It did not take long for the iuventa either to reach the dinghy.
While we were still on the way, from the bridge of the iuventa we could see how a civilian boat drove at high speed to the first dinghy, whose people were on board with us in the meantime.
The other accusation that the prosecution is making against me, is based on the fact that were civilian boats like this one in our vicinity. Presumably from Libyan actors.
We often saw or had other boats in the vicinity. Often fishermen, of course, but also the so-called Libyan Coast Guard or Engine Fisher. The Engine Fisher would drive up to empty boats and see if they could take the engines.
More than once I saw the so-called Libyan coast guard take the engines. We never knew what the intentions of other actors on the ground were.
We never knew who exactly was on those boats.
Nor were we ever told by the MRCC Rome or other European state actors, that there were people on a particular boat that we should stay away from.
We were only warned about the European partner, the so-called Libyan coastguard.
If someone comes up to you in a small boat and wants you to understand that there’s a boat sinking over there, you don’t ask who it is you’re talking to. It is not the time to think about who is in front of you.
When a boat has capsized, every minute counts. And every bit of information. Like exactly where the boat is.
What we have always taken into account is that there is a civil war in Libya. The fear that people on these civilian boats were carrying weapons was justified.
So we were one thing above all else: cautious.
Cautious and distantly polite.
At that moment, I didn’t care about the civilian boat. I suspected it was an Engine Fisher, but we had sunk the dinghy’s engine, after all. And my priority was with the people in the dinghy directly in front of us.
When everyone on board the fifth boat had put on their life jackets, the team from our RHIB asked me to start getting people off the dinghy. It was too crowded. They were worried that it would capsize. To prevent this, we started moving people from the dinghy to the iuventa. The civilian speedboat came to us and the fifth boat, after checking unsuccessfully for an engine on the first dinghy.
At first they stayed close by and watched us. But – probably – when they felt that we had taken enough people off the dinghy and it seemed safe to them, they approached the dinghy. They didn’t care that it was still full of people and that their manoeuvre was endangering them. They removed the outboard motor from the dinghy and took it on board.
I had never seen anyone do that during a rescue before. It puts the people on the boat in great danger. It is difficult to get close to such a fragile boat.
Of course we didn’t intervene. Anything would have made the situation worse. The people on board could have panicked, the speedboat could have made a quick, careless manoeuvre, and how were we to know if the men were armed? So I told the RHIB team to just wait. Once the speedboat had picked up the engine, we could get the rest of the people on board the iuventa, I hoped.
Another image from our investigation files is symbolic of our process. This image has also been circulated in the press. The white civilian boat is sailing away from the dinghy and our RHIB. One of the three men on the boat is waving an arm.
It is said that this is a friendly gesture between him and us. It is not clear from the photo who he is waving to. I could see that the man was waving to the people on the dinghy, not to our crew on the RHIB.
There is an image in the file that shows the situation from a different perspective to the one in the famous photograph. This second photograph did not make it into the press. It clearly shows, that the civilian boat is right next to the dinghy when the man waves. If these men were our friends or business partners, we would not have destroyed the first boat. The fact that they took the engine out of the second dinghy in the middle of the rescue, instead of waiting until after, can only have one reason. They were afraid that we would sink the engine before they could get to it. It did not matter to them that they had endangered human lives to get at least the second engine.
The images of 18.06.2017 from our files, have been misinterpreted and the prosecution’s interpretation has been clearly refuted.
Some simply by further photographs of the same situation, others by the scientific analysis of Forensic Architecture.
Despite all this, the investigation against us lead to this preliminary hearing, which has been going on since May 2022.
From the beginning, I was always surprised here in Trapani.
Of course, I expected that the public prosecutor’s office would not be sympathetic to us. But I expect a fair court to be impartial. I thought that all parties were entitled to fair treatment and that the court would only reach a verdict at the end of the trial. And to listen to both sides. Not only the prosecution, but also us, the defendants, and our lawyers.
I expect a judge to be interested in the testimony of witnesses. I would have thought that the court would take the opportunity to receive the exact mail correspondence between the MRCC Rome and the NGOs in order to be able to take into account the information contained in it.
I don’t think a judge should give you the feeling that he has already decided against you, just because he has read the indictment.
In fact, I expect a judge to be interested in information that can give him a better overview.
The presumption of innocence also applies to us. Doesn’t it?
This brings me to the question of fundamental rights. Again, I have been surprised at how often they have been denied to us in this courtroom.
Again and again, translation has been an issue in this trial.
We have never been given a translation of our files. It is the right of every defendant in a trial in Italy to be able to read their investigation file. In a language he understands. Not just a summary like the one we were given. How can anyone not think that it is important for defendants to know the contents of the files that led to their trial? I am surprised that knowing 3% of the files should be enough for me.
A 600-page summary of almost 30,000 pages in the files is supposed to be enough for me to prepare for this trial.
This also gives me the feeling that we have already been sentenced.
Last year, I wanted to exercise another right. I wanted to make a voluntary statement so that our side of the events would at least be on record.
Our files consist of 30,000 pages and 400 DVDs, and there is not a single word from us. Except, of course, for secret recordings and phone tapping, the legality of which even the Italian Ministry of Justice has questioned.
I came to Trapani three times to give my testimony. All three attempts failed. Neither the police nor the public prosecutor’s office were able to provide a sufficiently competent translator to the appointments.
At the first appointment, the police who were supposed to conduct the interrogation broke off after a few minutes. The translator couldn’t even tell me who was in the room. She couldn’t translate the simplest sentences. I was stunned. This trial is about whether I will go to jail for years, and the authorities bring a translator to an official appointment who was neither prepared for her task, nor suited to it.
The second time, a retired policeman was appointed as translator. I wondered if this might compromise his impartiality, as a former colleague. So I was surprised when he took instructions from one of the police officers present. This translator was also quickly overwhelmed by his task. We had to leave the room several times so that he could translate individual sentences in peace. But even he failed to at least tell me why I was being charged.
I would also like to point out that if one of my lawyers did not speak Italian and German, many translation errors would not have been noticed. Who would have noticed them?
We finished this second appointment before the actual interview could begin. It seemed impossible with this translator. I was stunned again.
It must be possible for me to exercise my rights and find someone to translate during such an interrogation.
Surprisingly, it was no longer the police who summoned us to the third appointment, but the prosecutor’s office itself. At first, I thought this was a good sign. They are taking us seriously and they are unhappy with the way the first appointments went. My lawyers and I were all the more surprised when we sat in the prosecutor’s office and they had brought the same interpreter who had failed to translate what the officials had told me the last time.
We refused to try it with him again.
So I was denied the right to make my statement. Perhaps you think I am exaggerating in my account.
An independent court-appointed expert looked at the transcripts of the interrogations on all three dates and gave clear evidence to the court that it would have been impossible, for someone who only spoke German, to follow the conversation.
He testified that many of the translations were incorrect. After cross-examining the expert, the court announced that the translation had been sufficient and that we had no reason to complain. There was no mention of the expert’s testimony that had just taken place.
As if the report did not exist.
The prosecution was surprised to learn that I also speak English and could have given the statement in English. Even though there are several emails I sent from iuventa in the files. And even though the entire time I was on the bridge as captain was acoustically recorded and the recordings are part of the investigation files.
Forgive the polemic, but at that moment I wondered whether the prosecution had even read the 600-page summary.
And so the process went on and on. All the motions were rejected. Everything we could have put forward to refute the charges, was rejected.
We filed a constitutional complaint during this trial because we believe that the laws that made our trial possible in the first place need to be changed. They are contrary to Italian and European law.
The court has also refused to pass on this application.
It does not want a competent European court – the European Court of Justice – to deal with our case. In its reasoning, it has made its position clear.
The people who come to Italy on the move are obviously a problem for the judge, it seems he doesn’t want them in Italy. And the people who come by sea are not in distress at sea.
The prosecutor and the judge seem to agree.
The people in the small, overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean are not in danger at all.
Because we, the NGOs, had arranged to meet them there.
Because we are part of a criminal network.
The investigation against me and the 20 other defendants was a priority.
More important than the lives of thousands of people who were knowingly put at risk and drowned in May 2017.
Finito la musica.