By iuventa crew

“I don’t think we have any alternative other than remaining optimistic. Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect.”

― Angela Y. Davis

As the preliminary hearings of the Iuventa case progress, more relevant issues begin to emerge. The last few months have been hectic, and although the case file itself has not yet been discussed, we have already felt the rising tension regarding facing a trial which, as we shall see, the Italian authorities themselves have defined as a “political trial” and a discursive battlefield. If on the one hand we have observed the power and violence of the political enemy, on the other hand we have also experienced our own powers: those of political legitimacy, solidarity and mutual support.

In the last months, three main issues have emerged: firstly the violation of our right to an adequate interpretation, secondly the intention by the Italian government to participate as joint plaintiff in the trial, and thirdly the criminal complaint filed by the Iuventa crew in order to identify those responsible for the abandonment and destruction of the ship, challenging their impunity. Let’s take it one step at a time.

STEP ONE  – #NoTranslationNoJustice

The interrogation that never took place, but happened three times

After the closure of the investigation in March 2021, all the accused had the right to be voluntarily questioned by the prosecution. Dariush, one of the iuventa defendants, was denied this right due to procedural errors, so the defence requested a later opportunity. The interrogation was attempted on three occasions between October and December. After acknowledging the police inability to provide an adequate interpreter on the first two attempts, the prosecutor’s office, responsible for the interrogation, took the task directly. Surprisingly, the interpreter summoned, a retired policeman, was the same person from the second interrogation! An incomprehensible decision, as he had already proved himself inadequate.

None of the three attempts allowed Dariush to understand the basis of the accusations presented against him, preventing him from expressing his point of view on the matter and defending himself. The same opinion was shared by the four experts appointed by the court to assess the quality of interpretation, who concluded that the interpreters were unsuitable as essential elements could not be understood by the defendant. Surprisingly, at the 10th February hearing, the judge overruled the independent experts’ opinion, affirming that although the interpreters made mistakes and errors, Dariush could understand the “essential content” of the interrogation.

There are several elements which show why the rights of the defendants with regard to interpretation and effective participation may ultimately be violated.

ECCHR, part of the trial monitoring group, highlighted after the last hearing that “judges in Italy possess a wide margin of discretion in determining what counts as “essential content” for a defendant to understand in order to effectively exercise their defence rights, as the term is not further elaborated in the Directive 2010/64/EU on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings”. Therefore, it seems clear that the European directive is unable to guarantee the defendants’ fundamental rights. The implementation of the directive at the national level should be accompanied by mechanisms to ensure the minimum standards of interpretation and translation services as required by EU law.

The lawyers are also trying to challenge the completely inadequate translation of the files. Less than 3% translated of the approximately 27,000 pages cannot be considered sufficient. So far, we have received a translation of the indictment and a summary of the files from the public prosecutor’s office. Most of the significant evidence, like protocols of testimonies or eyewitnesses, is not included in this document. Until now, the judge considered the summary to be sufficient.

Finally, the conditions for interpreters working in courts are appalling. Interpreters and translators in Italy earn only 10% of the European average. But according to EULITA, the European Association of Legal Interpreters and Translators, this is actually a Europe-wide problem: “The ridiculously low pay keeps qualified interpreters away from the courtroom, with the consequent suspension of hearings, loss of time and increased costs.”

We launched the #NoTranslationNoJustice campaign to shed light on the many cases in which interpretation services are inadequate for defendants, threatening their right to a fair trial. This is most often the case for people with fewer social and economic resources.

STEP TWO – “This is a political trial” 

At the 19th December hearing, both the Interior Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office applied to be admitted as injured parties in the trial. According to the government, the Italian state had suffered considerable “financial and moral damages” as a result of the defendants’ rescue activities at sea. As defendant Kathrin commented after receiving the news, “The investigations and the trial against us have always been politically motivated. Now this has been openly exposed”. The conspicuous presence of police in and around the courtroom was evident. To the question of why there were so many police mobilised, an officer replied clearly: “this is a political trial”.

At the following hearing on 10th February, the defence lawyers submitted a request against the participation of the two Italian authorities in the trial, stressing that their request was full of errors, both in form and content, and was therefore inadmissible. In fact, some errors were so serious that the defence lawyers threatened to file a counterclaim for defamation, as the motion also included extremely serious and false accusations for which the defendants are not even charged, such as “belonging to a transnational crime organization dedicated to human trafficking”, “organizing the transfer of migrants from Sudan and Libya to facilitate illegal entry into Europe”, and “carrying out illicit money transfers through the hawala system”.

The motion had nothing to do with either the indictment or the investigative files. This led to the government representative having to apologise and to delete entire sections of the application. The most plausible explanation is that the government copied and pasted two pages from another case file. A carelessness in the drafting of the deed which, as defence lawyer Francesca Cancellaro commented, shows little respect for the defendants and the court.

At the 25th February hearing, the judge announced the decision to reject the request of the Prime Minister’s office to join as civil plaintiff, blocking Meloni’s effort to access the courtroom. Instead, the court recognised an abstract right of the Ministry of the Interior to be a civil plaintiff, although neither its role in relation to the facts, nor the causation of damages, has yet been disputed.

STEP THREE – Destroying a life-saving ship is a political crime

On 12th February we filed a criminal complaint requesting an investigation into the abandonment and destruction of the Iuventa. After almost 5 years in the custody of the Trapani Port Authority, which should have provided effective guarding and maintenance, the ship was abandoned, plundered and largely demolished. People had entered the ship, thefts and destruction had been committed and there had been people living inside the vessel. Despite being informed, those responsible failed to take adequate measures. The report that followed the technical inspection carried out in October 2022 indicated that “the vessel has been in a state of total abandonment since the date of seizure” and that “no ordinary or extraordinary maintenance has been carried out”.

The Italian state has not only reduced the capacity of the civil fleet by seizing the Iuventa, but also abandoned the ship and contributed to the destruction of an asset that could have saved lives. The political connotation of such actions is unquestionable; it is another example of the disregard for the lives of people on the move and the continued obstinacy in preventing their survival. Sascha, part of the Iuventa crew, explained how “In a context where the Italian government and state policies are obsessed with hindering the operations of the civil fleet, directly and indirectly violating the fundamental rights of people on the move, including the right to life, we consider the confiscation of rescue assets and their destruction as part of the same strategy”. In filing this criminal complaint, we join the forces of those who are challenging the impunity of the Italian authorities in obstructing civil fleet operations in the Central Med.

In memory of the people murdered by the European Border Regime. On 26 February at least 79 people were killed off the coast of Crotone (Italy). Just two weeks later, the Italian and Maltese authorities left 30 people to die at sea. Rest in Power.

Who detain rescue ships, leave people die! Free Geo Barents!

Article published in Echoes#5