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Italian ETUC members flash English and German slogans. Photo: ETUC

German leaders condemn arrest of lawbreaking Sea Watch 3 captain

German politicians have condemned, in harsh comments, the arrest of Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete. Rackete was arrested on Saturday night after entering the port of Lampedusa with her vessel Sea Watch 3 carrying 40 illegal immigrants aboard.

Published: July 1, 2019, 11:25 am

    This move by Rakete is blatantly illegal under Italian law. In addition, she ran into a boat of the Italian financial police, damaging it. According to the news agency Ansa, Rakete has been threatened with appropriate charges which could lead to between three and ten years in prison. Rackete is currently under house arrest.

    Despite her obvious transgressions, Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has now demanded Rackete’s release. “Those who save human life, can not be a criminal,” Steinmeier said in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF.

    Germany expects a different way of dealing with such cases from a country such as Italy, one of the founders of the EU, he said.

    This comment clearly provoked Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The Lega leader replied on Twitter, calling on Steinmeier to deal with German affairs and to rather encourage his fellow countrymen to stop breaking Italian laws.

    German Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) also declared his solidarity with the 31-year-old captain of the human trafficking vessel. On Twitter, he wrote: “Saving lives is a humanitarian obligation. Sea rescue must not be criminalized. ”

    German Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) called for the “immediate release” of the mendacious captain and an end to the “untenable situation”. Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser also spoke up. “People who save lives should not be arrested,” he wrote on Twitter.

    “People who kill, sow and promote hate should be arrested.” This was not the first time that Kaeser had commented on the politics of the day. In the past year Kaeser had attacked AfD chief Alice Weidel on Twitter and accused her of an attachment to Nazism.

    Green Party chief Robert Habeck told the editorial network of Germany on Sunday: “The real scandal is the drowning in the Mediterranean, the lack of legal escape routes and a missing distribution mechanism in Europe.”

    The television presenters Jan Böhmerman and Klaas Heufer-Umlauf even started a donation campaign for Rackete. So far, according to media reports, more than one million euros have been received. “With the events of the last few days, this inhuman, cold-blooded and unscrupulous policy has reached a new low,” said Böhmermann, explaining his commitment.

    The deafening silence from Merkel’s Chancellery, from the rest of CDU/CSU and the FDP signaled clear support for lawbreaker Rakete. Rakete herself has said she is “ready to go to jail”, suggesting that she herself is well aware of her intention to ignore laws.

    Carola Rackete, the captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant-rescue ship, has been put under investigation by prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Agrigento, sources confirmed on Friday.

    Her ship is currently anchored in front of the port of Lampedusa after Rackete defied an order to stay out of Italian waters on Wednesday. The migrants were picked up from human traffickers just off Libya over two weeks ago.

    Rackete, 31-year-old German, is being probed for allegedly aiding illegal immigration for refusing to obey a military vessel, the sources said.

    Premier Giuseppe Conte said on Friday that several EU States have agreed to take in some of the more than 40 migrants on board to end the deadlock.

    “Three or four countries are willing to take part in the redistribution of the Sea-Watch migrants,” Conte told reporters at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

    According to Italian Foreign Ministry sources, more than four EU countries were willing to take some of the Sea-Watch migrants, including France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal.

    The Dutch have not signalled a willingness to take in migrants from the Sea Watch 3 even though it flies under a flag from the Netherlands. Conte had had a long meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the sidelines of the G20.

    The ship is run but a German NGO but it is flies the Dutch flag. Rome has argued that the Netherlands should have intervened sooner in this case. This week the Italian embassy in The Hague took a formal step to look into a possible dereliction of duty by Dutch authorities regarding the case.

    Rakete’s stand against Italian law, was captured by cameras provided by the NDR, which was “embedded” with two journalists on the vessel.

    The NDR journalists on the Sea Watch 3 boat had reported – before entering the Italian port – about “the deplorable condition of the poor refugees”. The German moderator of the televised programme then denounced the Italian Minister of the Interior as a “vociferous right-wing populist”.

    It is not clear how the German state broadcaster was able to accompany the vessel.

    In Italy, the leftwing European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also condemned the arrest by the Italian authorities of Rakete. “Saving people at sea is a moral and legal duty” said Luca Visentini, Secretary General of the ETUC “and people who do it should be honoured not arrested.”

    “EU leaders meeting tomorrow should demand her release and an end to the Italian government’s inhumane and immoral closed port policy. Italy should not be allowed to get away with criminalising those who save lives, and member states should work together to host those fleeing war and persecution as is their duty under international law. An EU wide solution to managing migration in a decent and humane way is long-overdue.”


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