Solidarity is not a crime, according to a sentence of the supreme Cassation court which has cleared four Eritrean citizens of aiding and abetting illegal immigration. A court of first instance and an appeals court had previously convicted them of "favoring illegal immigration" as part of a criminal organization for helping other Eritrean migrants who had arrived in Italy, their lawyers said.
Italy's supreme Cassation Court in Rome on Friday, May 20, cleared four Eritrean migrants of favoring illegal immigration "because the fact does not exist", or "there is no case to answer", their defense lawyers said.
The four, who lived in the Roman shantytown of Ponte Mammolo, were first accused of being the "Rome-based cell" of an organization led by Mered Medahine, an alleged boss of human traffickers.
The four were subsequently found guilty of favoring illegal immigration by a court of first instance and an appeals court before being acquitted by the Cassation.
'An important sentence' that sets a precedent
"It is an important sentence that I hope will be useful to other cases based on unjust charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration", said attorney Raffaella Flore, who represented the defendants in the Cassation trial.
"The initial charges were extremely serious," said Flore, "because the four Eritrean refugees were accused of belonging to a transnational organization that exploited migrants for money" as part of a joint investigation with prosecutors in Palermo, Sicily, into Mered Medahine.
Flore went on to explain that investigators believed that Medahine's organization had a "Roman cell", although the "presumed leader was later acquitted of many charges" and allegations of human trafficking crumbled "thanks to the huge work carried out by experts on translations of wiretapping."
According to the defense lawyers, the injustice of the case depended on the fact that, once the main charges were dropped, the four Eritrean nationals were nevertheless convicted for helping other migrants.
"What I asked the Cassation Court, along with legal issues, trying to solicit their sensibility was: why is a Eritrean, who has experienced certain things, committing a crime by helping another Eritrean join his family? And finally they said no, the fact does not exist."
"Solidarity must not be criminalized", said the lawyer, citing similar cases concerning the captain of a migrant-rescue ship, Carola Rackete, and the head of Rome-based NGO Baobab Experience, Andrea Costa, who was also recently acquitted of favoring illegal immigration.
"Today, we saw the recognition of the solidarity of Eritreans towards other Eritreans - a solidarity among the fragile. It was an honor to defend them", concluded Flore.