Sea Watch captain Rackete freed from house arrest in Italy
Carola Rackete, the German captain of charity rescue ship Sea Watch 3, has been released from house arrest after a pre-trial hearing in Italy, according to the Ansa news agency.
A pre-trial judge in the Sicilian town of Agrigento on Tuesday evening overturned the house arrest order that was issued on Saturday, after the 31-year-old forced her way into the port of the island of Lampedusa.
"We're relieved that our captain is free again!" Sea Watch tweeted. "There was no reason to have her arrested since she was merely advocating for human rights in the Mediterranean and was taking on responsibility where no European government did."
Rackete defied an Italian order not to enter Italian waters and, while docking in Lampedusa, collided with an Italian customs police that was trying to obstruct her manoeuvre.
She says she acted out of necessity to bring to safety 40 migrants she had on board.
Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accused her of criminal and reckless behaviour.
Rackete was questioned for three hours on Monday on suspicion of resisting orders from a military ship and resisting the orders of a public official.
Salvini said Rackete is being expelled from the country.
"She is going back to her Germany, where they wouldn't be as tolerant with an Italian who put the lives of German police in danger," he said.
Her lawyer, Leonardo Marino, told journalists that Rackete defended her actions before the judge. She said the decision to enter Lampedusa's port on Saturday was made because the situation on board the vessel had become "very tense." Rackete did not see the customs boat before accidentally making contact with it, Marino said.
Ahead of the judicial decision, there were protests across Germany calling for the captain's release.
Rackete's vessel picked up 53 people off Libya on 12 June. By the end of last week she still had 40 migrants on board, after 13 had been evacuated and taken to Lampedusa for medical or humanitarian reasons. The remaining migrants have since been removed from the boat and are awaiting redistribution to other EU countries, five of which have so far offered to accept them.
Beyond criminal prosecution, Rackete faced a hefty fine under a new Italian law that punishes migrant rescue ships for unauthorised entries into its territorial waters. The fine would also be applicable to the Sea Watch charity.
Sea Watch said it fears the arrest of Rackete will lead to the deaths of more people in the Mediterranean, because it could cause the captains of all ships passing through the sea to "think twice" about rescuing migrants in distress.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission declined to comment on the case, noting that the commission "has no competence in this matter."
The commission is helping to negotiate the distribution of the vessels' passengers among member states. The spokeswoman noted that the ongoing talks were key in the decision of the five member states – Germany, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Finland – offering to take in some of the rescued asylum seekers.
More than 1.3 million euros have been donated to Sea Watch to go towards legal costs for Rackete and a new ship, in the event that the Sea Watch 3 remains impounded by Italian authorities.
More than 893,000 euros has been brought in through an appeal led by two German TV personalities – Jan Boehmermann and Klaas Heufer-Umlauf – while another 430,000 euros was raised on an Italian Facebook page.
A petition on Change.org that called for Rackete's release had been signed by more than 283,000 people. (dpa)