Last August 30th, six fishermen from Zarzis were arrested at Lampedusa under the accusation of aiding illegal immigration. The Judge in the Court of Re-Examination in Palermo today decided to revoke the cautionary detention in prison, freeding Chamseddine Bourassine. Along with his crew – Lofti Lahiba, Farhat Tarhouni, Salem Belhiba, Bechir Edhiba and Ammar Zemzi – he can now leave the prison in Agrigento and return home.
The accusation was leveled following the rescue of 14 people, including three minors, who were in distress at sea. They 14 were on board a small vessel awaiting rescue by the Italian Coast Guard. But the lack of intervention forced the fishermen to take the decision to tow the vessel and thus save the passengers.
The six fishermen simply did that which the law of the sea and international conventions impose: saving lives in danger.
Bourassine and the Zarzis fishermen have saved many lives at sea ouver recent years and have also recovered bodies. One of those saved stated that they would not have survived without the fishermen’s intervention.
The video imagery published by Frontex shows the fishermen towing the ship and that the crew were engaged in normal fishing activities prior to meeting the 14 migrants.
Giulia Bertoluzzi’s film “Strange Fih”, which received a prize at the documentary film festival in Milan on September 16th, tells the story of the rescue activities performed by the Zarzis fishermen’s association, of which Chamseddine Bourassine is the president.
Furthermore, the fishermen’s association of Zarzis, along with 65 organisations engaged in sea rescue, received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize under the title “The rights of the Mediterranean Sea – For the Humanitarian Marine Rescue of Migrants”.
The six fishermen received solidarity following their arrest, including a range of initiatives not only in Tunisia but also in France and Italy, where citizens, unions and associations demanded their release. The Tunisian government had also engaged with the Italian government to assure their freedom.
In a letter sent to the Italian Ambassador to Tunisia, the other fishermen from the Zarzis association wrote:
“When we come across a shipwreck at sea we do not consider the colour of people’s skin, their origin, their religion; even less about whether the League or the Five Star Movement at in agreement or not. Because we only think about saving lives, even if we must sacrifice our own.”
Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
Translation by Richard Braude