Sea-Watch captain Carola Rackete to face Italy prosecutor over migrants

Carola Rackete, captain of the Sea-Watch 3, was arrested on June 29 for entering Italy’s Lampedusa port despite a veto imposed by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Sea-Watch captain Carola Rackete to face Italy prosecutor over migrants

  • Carola Rackete expected to be questioned in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento
  • The German ship captain was arrested on June 29 for entering Italy’s Lampedusa port despite a veto

AGRIGENTO, Italy: German captain Carola Rackete, who sparked international headlines by forcibly docking in an Italian port with rescued migrants, faces questioning by an Italian prosecutor on Thursday over allegedly aiding illegal immigration.
The captain of the Sea-Watch 3 is expected to be questioned in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento from 10 a.m. (0800 GMT).
Rackete was arrested on June 29 for entering Italy’s Lampedusa port despite a veto imposed by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and knocking a coast guard boat out of the way to land 40 migrants after over two weeks blocked at sea.
A judge overturned the arrest three days later, saying the 31-year old had merely acted to save lives.
But the Sea-Watch 3 remains in police custody in the Sicilian port of Licata and Rackete is still the object of two investigations — one for entering Italian waters despite a direct order to stop, and another for aiding illegal immigration.
Rackete will be heard on the latter on Thursday, and will have to explain why her crew rescued the migrants without waiting for the Libyan coast guard, which has jurisdiction over the stretch of water in which they were found.
The 31-year-old will also be asked why she then sailed the Dutch-flagged vessel to Italy rather than a Libyan or Tunisian port.
Salvini insists that Italy’s ports remain closed to people who attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing.
Prosecutors in Agrigento appealed to Italy’s highest court this week against the decision to drop charges against Rackete for forcibly entering the port of Lampedusa, in the hope of establishing a precedent to put off other privately-run ships.
A few days after the Sea-Watch drama, another charity vessel forcibly landed in Lampedusa, a scenario that is likely to recur.
Salvini’s hard-line stance has led to an upsurge in investigations into charity rescue vessels.
In March 2017, the Spanish vessel Open Arms was seized and its captain and head of mission were prosecuted after the crew refused to hand saved migrants over to the Libyan coast guard, which arrived at the scene during a rescue operation.
A month later a judge ordered the vessel be released on the grounds that crisis-hit Libya could not be considered a safe port.
And the prosecutor’s office in Catania, eastern Sicily, recently archived the case against the captain and mission head.
The same prosecutor closed a similar probe against the NGO Sea-Watch after a rescue operation in January, concluding that the crew’s actions were justified.
But the Sea-Watch 3’s dramatic port entry in June marked a new chapter in the war between Salvini and charity vessels.
The arrest of the dreadlocked Rackete sparked an online campaign which raised over $1.57 million (€1.4 million) in a few days to pay her legal fees and enable the German NGO to continue its operations — with a new boat if necessary.
On Tuesday the parliament of Catalonia in Spain voted unanimously to honor Rackete with a Gold Medal, its highest award.
And the city of Paris announced a donation of €100,000 to Sea-Watch, as well as a medal for Rackete and Pia Klemp, another German captain prosecuted in Italy.
Paris’s move infuriated Italy’s far right, which noted that the French government had remained silent throughout the 15 days the ship had been blocked at sea, despite Rackete’s numerous appeals for a safe port.
Salvini has stepped up his attacks on the rescue charities, which he has accused of aiding people-smugglers, while calling Rackete a “bigmouth” and a “criminal.”
Rackete filed a complaint last week for defamation and incitement to violence, noting that Salvini’s hostile messages on social networks have prompted an outpouring of sexist, violent and threatening comments from users.

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 26 min 54 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.