Judges in Palermo have ordered the immediate release of six Tunisian fishermen who were arrested by the Italian police on suspicion of enabling the smuggling of migrants.
The men were captured at sea early in September after their trawler released a small vessel it had been towing with 14 migrants onboard, 24 miles (37km) from the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Since their arrest, friends and colleagues have rallied to their defence, saying they have saved hundreds of migrants and refugees who risked drowning in the Mediterranean over the years. Prosecutors have accused the men of illegally escorting the boat into Italian waters and claimed they had no evidence of an SOS sent from either the migrants’ boat or the fishermen’s vessel.
According to their lawyers, the Tunisians maintain that they saw the vessel in distress and a common decision was made to tow it to safety in Italian waters.