Migrants being held in the detention center in Zawiya, 30 km from Tripoli | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL
Migrants being held in the detention center in Zawiya, 30 km from Tripoli | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL

A preliminary hearings judge (GUP) in the Sicilian city of Palermo has sentenced two men to a 20-year prison term for allegedly detaining and torturing migrants waiting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy, in the Zuhara prison in Libya. Both men, identified as citizens of Bangladesh, faced torture charges.

Preliminary hearings judge (GUP) Clelia Maltese on Thursday, February 3, sentenced two Bangladeshi citizens, Pazurl S. and Harun M., to 20 years in prison on charges of torture.

The pair, aged respectively 37 and 33, were found guilty of holding prisoners and torturing migrants in the Zuhara prison in Libya before they embarked on a journey to reach Italy by sea.

The investigation leading up to the trial was coordinated by prosecutor Gery Ferrara.

Alleged victims accused defendants

Some of the alleged victims accused the defendants of holding them captive and beating them up for months. The pair reached Italy on May 28, 2020, in one of many landings on Sicily's coasts.

They were reportedly identified by other migrants who had stayed at the camp and arrested on July 6 that year.

During a pretrial hearing to gather evidence on the case, migrants who had travelled with the defendants recognized them and cried, claiming the two men had tortured them while they were staying in the Libyan camp, judicial sources said.

Prosecutors subsequently ordered a medical examination on the witnesses, which confirmed they had been tortured.

Some of the victims provided videos filmed with their cell phones as evidence of the torture, judicial sources said. Investigators also found on Facebook photos portraying the defendants with AK47 rifles, which migrants said they used to hit them.

Eritrean extradited after appeals court upholds conviction

Meanwhile, an appeals court in Palermo on Thursday (February 3) upheld a five-year prison term for Eritrean citizen Tesfamariam Medhanie Berhe on charges of favoring illegal immigration. The defendant was extradited from Sudan in June 2016.

Investigators said his true identity was Medhanie Y. and that he headed one of the leading criminal organizations trafficking migrants between Africa and Italy.

During the trial of first instance, which began in November 2016, the man said that his was a case of mistaken identity, that his real name was Tesfamariam Medhanie Berhe and that he was a carpenter who had arrived in the African State to reach Europe.

The judges of first instance believed the claim of mistaken identity but said the Eritrean had been involved in migrant trafficking and sentenced him to five years in prison for favoring illegal immigration.

However, they ordered his release after finding him not guilty of criminal association to smuggle migrants.

The defendant was only convicted for favoring the illegal migration of two people -- a sentence upheld by the appeals court.

UK helped to curb organized crime

In 2016, it was the National Crime Agency leading UK efforts to curb organized crime that gave Italian investigators the information that the alleged trafficker was in Khartoum, Sudan.

Sudanese and British investigators said the man was using many cell phones, including one tapped by magistrates in Palermo, which was connected to migrant traffickers living in Libya.

According to judicial sources, the analysis of calls made with the cell phone used by the suspect allegedly confirmed the suspicions of investigators: migrant trafficking was in fact discussed in many of the conversations. The defendant always denied that the seized cell phone was his.


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