A German boat captain faces 20 years in an Italian prison for rescuing drowning migrants who are fleeing war zones.
Pia Klemp said rescuing people had become ‘criminalised’ and condemned Italy for what she said would be a ‘year-long show trial.’
Pia’s supporters have hailed her as a humanitarian who has been personally responsible for hundreds of rescue missions.
But the Italian authorities have accused her in assisting illegal immigration and impounded her boat.
Pia, 35, said she is now prepared for a lengthy and expensive legal battle, which could end up in the EU court of human rights.
She added: ‘We are accused of aiding and abetting illegal entry. On it stands up to 20 years imprisonment and horrendous fines.
‘We are facing a year-long show trial. The legal and legal costs alone will amount to over 300,000 euros (£266,000) plus travel and campaign costs.’
Italy, under the influence of far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, has accused Pia of colluding with smugglers.
Pictures allegedly show human traffickers ‘escorting’ vessels packed with asylum seekers before they are transferred to aid boats.
Pia has said that these pictures were taken off the coast of Malta, not Italy, and said she always followed international law while captaining the Iuventa vessel.
Speaking to Swiss paper Basler Zeitung, she added: ‘We have only followed international law, especially the law of the sea, where the highest priority is to save people from distress.
‘The rescue is criminalised. We are already paralysed. And that’s why people are dying on the Mediterranean.’
Since 2014, more than 12,000 people have died in the Mediterranean trying to flee Libya to Europe.
The UN refugee agency has called it the ‘world’s deadliest sea crossing.’
Pia already has the backing of some 80,000 people who have signed a petition urging Italy to drop the charges.
Petition organisers said that Pia’s imprisonment would represent ‘the surrender of humanity’ in Europe.
Pia, from Bonn, said she was ‘bitter’ that money raised for her defence could not be spent instead on rescue missions.
Salvini leads the powerful right-wing League party in the ruling coalition and has seen his popularity soar with his hard line stance.
He has repeatedly refused entry to Mediterranean migrants and turned away rescue ships operated by NGOs.
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