Italy releases Tunisian fishermen held on suspicion of smuggling migrants
London, September 23, 2018 (AltAfrica)-Judges in Palermo have ordered the immediate release of six Tunisian fishermen who were arrested by the Italian police on suspicion of enabling the smuggling of migrants.
The men were captured at sea early in September after their trawler released a small vessel it had been towing with 14 migrants onboard, 24 miles (37km) from the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Since their arrest, friends and colleagues have rallied to their defence, saying they have saved hundreds of migrants and refugees who risked drowning in the Mediterranean over the years.
Prosecutors have accused the men of illegally escorting the boat into Italian waters and claimed they had no evidence of an SOS sent from either the migrants’ boat or the fishermen’s vessel.
According to their lawyers, the Tunisians maintain that they saw the vessel in distress and a common decision was made to tow it to safety in Italian waters.
On Saturday, a review commission composed of three judges ordered the men’s immediate release. They are allowed to return to Tunisia, but the trial will continue in Sicily.
Among those arrested were 45-year-old Chamseddine Ben Alì Bourassine, who is known in his home city of Zarzis for saving migrants and bringing human remains caught in his nets back to shore to give the often anonymous dead a dignified burial. A few years ago, a petition was circulated in the city, which lies near the Libyan border, to nominate him for the Nobel peace prize.
The defence lawyers Leonardo Marino, Giacomo La Russa and Roberto Majorini said on Saturday: “The judges have confirmed that the arrest of our clients was a clear misapprehension. They cannot charge Bourassine for smuggling the very same migrants whom he had always rescued.”
According to his colleagues in Zarzis, Bourassine is also an advocate for dissuading young Tunisians from illegal migration.