Nearly a million dollars has been raised for rescue ship captain Carola Rackete, who was arrested for docking her vessel in Italy without permission on Saturday to ensure the safety of the 40 migrants onboard.
In what Italy’s populist Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has called an “act of war,” Rackete, the German captain of Sea-Watch 3, entered a port on the island of Lampedusa late on Friday evening after a two-week standoff with authorities.
She was taken away in handcuffs moments later, but a fundraiser for her legal defense set up by two German television personalities has raised hundreds of thousands of euros and a campaign to free her is gathering pace on social media.
“Those who save lives are not criminals,” Jan Böhmermann and Klaas Heufer-Umlauf wrote on their online fundraiser, which has generated more than €750,000 ($850,000) since Saturday.
Rackete will appear in court on Monday for refusing to obey warships attempting to keep her away from the dock. She could face up to 10 years in prison, though prosecutors are not expected to ask for jail time.
Her decision to dock the vessel meant the 40 migrants onboard, rescued off the coast of Libya weeks ago, were able to disembark. They will be redirected to five EU countries that have agreed to take them in, according to Italy’s Foreign Ministry.
“It wasn’t an act of violence, but only one of disobedience,” Rackete told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Saturday. “The situation was desperate … my goal was only to bring exhausted and desperate people to shore.”
Salvini has repeatedly celebrated Rackete’s arrest, claiming her maneuver put the crews of police vessels at risk. He has taken aim at Rackete for weeks in interviews and on his social media accounts, in a series of attacks characteristic of the hardline politician who has attempted to shutter Italy’s borders to migrants fleeing violence or humanitarian crises.
“I hope … that the young woman will spend her time in jail,” he said in a Facebook Live video after her arrest. “If not, as Interior Minister I am ready with an expulsion decree to put her on the first plane destination Berlin.” He had earlier shared pictures of Rackete’s arrest with a caption reading “Mission accomplished.”
Sea-Watch 3 was one of the first migrant rescue vessels to test Italy’s newest hardline migration laws.
Under Salvini, the country closed its ports to migrant rescue vessels in June 2018. And earlier this month, it adopted a decree that could see ships docking without authorization facing fines of up to $57,000.
Although the decree does not mention migrant rescue ships specifically, it is a clear attempt to deter such vessels — which pluck thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean each year — from docking in Italian ports.