- Title: Italy convicts Tunisian over sinking that killed almost 700 migrants
- Date: 13th December 2016
- Summary: EXTERIOR OF COURT HOUSE INTERIOR SIGN READING: "The law is equal for all." ACCUSED SHIP CAPTAIN MOHAMMED ALI MALEK ESCORTED BY POLICE WALKING ALONG COURTROOM CORRIDOR LAWYERS TALKING IN COURTROOM COURTROOM FILMED FROM OUTSIDE DOOR ACCUSED SHIP CAPTAIN MOHAMMED ALI MALEK BEHIND BARS IN COURTROOM LAWYERS IN COURTROOM ACCUSED SHIP CAPTAIN MOHAMMED ALI MALEK SEATED BEHIND BARS (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) COURTROOM OFFICIAL READING SENTENCE SAYING: "I declare Mohammed Ali Malek guilty of the crimes here written and unifying the crimes B and C under the article number 81,1 of the penal code. I condemn him to the sentence, already reduced for time served, of six years in prison and a fine of 9 million 633,333 euro and for twelve years in prison for crimes B and C. Mahmud Bikhit, guilty of the crime here written, I condemn him to the sentence, already reduced for time served, to five years in prison and a fine of 9 million 633,333 euro." INTERIOR OF COURTROOM (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) LAWYER REPRESENTING MOHAMMED ALI MALEK, MASSIMO FERRANTE SAYING: "Coming out of the courtroom my client said "I am with you" and if he is with me we will continue. We think we have some strong arguments and we will try and work on some of the weaker points of our defense. We will try and be more convincing in our argument in the Appeals Court." VARIOUS OF ACCUSED SHIP CAPTAIN MOHAMMED ALI MALEK SPEAKING TO LAWYERS FROM BEHIND BARS (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) LAWYER REPRESENTING MAHMUD BIKHIT GIUSEPPE IVO RUSSO SAYING: "They were both convicted and within 90 days we will know the motivation for this sentence. We will appeal because my client says he is innocent, and he is innocent according to the testimonies of some migrants who have said he was with them in the holding centres waiting to leave." ACCUSED SYRIAN MAHMUD BIKHIT TALKING TO HIS LAWYER COURTROOM (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) LAWYER REPRESENTING CIVIL PARTIES GIORGIO FORESTIERI SAYING: "This sentence represents an important precedence and it is a symbol for all those who suffer these abuses and mistreatment. And in some cases it can be defined as people smuggling." COURTROOM
- Embargoed: 28th December 2016 14:49
- Keywords: Italy smuggler migrants trial conviction
- Location: CATANIA, ITALY
- City: CATANIA, ITALY
- Country: Italy
- Reuters ID: LVA0015CPX6IV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A Tunisian man accused of captaining a migrant boat that sank in 2015 killing almost 700 people was found guilty of multiple manslaughter and people smuggling on Tuesday (December 13) and sentenced to 18 years in jail.
Only 28 people survived the disaster in April last year when a small fishing boat capsized off the coast of Libya, with hundreds of migrants trapped in the hold and unable to escape.
Mohammed Ali Malek, 28, had denied being the captain, saying he had paid for passage like everyone else, but a court in the city of Catania dismissed his defence and blamed him for one of the worst shipping tragedies of recent years.
The court also sentenced 26-year-old Syrian Mahmud Bikhit to five years in prison on charges of people smuggling. Survivors said Bikhit was Malek's cabin boy. He had denied any wrongdoing.
Both men were also handed fines of nine million euros ($9.5 million). Their lawyers said they would appeal the convictions.
"We think we have some strong arguments and we will try and work on some of the weaker points of our defense," said Massimo Ferrante, the lawyer representing Malek.
"We will appeal because my client says he is innocent, and he is innocent according to the testimonies of some migrants who have said he was with them in the holding centres waiting to leave," said Giuseppe Ivo Russo, representing Bikhit.
Outrage over the incident prompted European Union leaders to bolster its own search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean just days after the boat went down.
In the past three years, roughly half a million boat migrants have arrived on Italian shores and almost 12,000 have died in the Mediterranean as they sought to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Prosecutors had told the court that Malek mishandled the grossly overloaded fishing boat, which left from Darabli, Libya, carrying men, women and children from Algeria, Somalia, Egypt, Senegal, Zambia, Mali, Bangladesh and Ghana.
They say he caused the boat to collide with a Portuguese merchant ship that was coming to its aid.
As the passengers rushed away from the side of the boat which had struck the merchant ship, the vessel capsized and sank within minutes.
State prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro said in a statement that the case showed Italy had the right to press smuggling charges over incidents that took place in international waters.
"This sentence represents an important precedence and it is a symbol for all those who suffer these abuses and mistreatment," said lawyer Giorgio Forestieri representing some of the migrants who survived.
The Italian justice system got involved this time because the survivors were brought to Italy. Italy's navy raised the boat in June and a total 675 bodies were recovered.
Earlier this year another migrant boat sank in the Mediterranean killing around 500 people, however Italy did not carry out an investigation because the survivors were taken to Greece. A Reuters investigation found that no official body, national or multinational, has held anyone to account for the deaths or even opened an inquiry.
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