Activist Pia Klemp Faces 20 Years In Jail After Rescuing Refugees

Pia Klemp

Pia Klemp has been under investigation by Italian authorities since 2017 after helping at least 1,000 refugees cross the Mediterranean into Italy. Now she is facing 20 years in jail if convicted of charges brought against her.

The 35-year-old ship captain doubles as an activist as a member of Sea Watch. This organization helps organize their ship to rescue those seeking asylum and use the ocean as an escape route.

Italy has accused Pia of being complicit in human trafficking stating that the rescues were staged. Many reports mention trafficking issues in Libya and that many of these rescued refugees may be Libyan as well. Libya has been under extreme conflict and war since 2011.

Under their new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini,  immigration reform has been a  main concern. A new security decree passed in the Italian government would fine €50,000, $57,000, to ships that ignore the bans and limitations on accessing Italian waters. After ignoring these orders more than once, ships risk being seized.

However, this legislation made no specific mention of non-governmental organizations. Sea Watch is an NGO and if they chose to not assist anyone at sea in need of rescue and assistance, they’d be going against Article 98 of the UN’s Convention of the Law of the Sea.

Since her legal battle began, a petition on has circulated working for signatures to drop the charges against Pia. Currently it has 197,832 signatures.

Pia has said that if convicted, she plans to fight, taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights. She’s consistently expressed her dissatisfaction with how Italy is proceeding with the charges, calling her trial a “show trial”. Not to mention the money being used overall to conduct this trial could be used to help find a viable solution for safe immigration tactics.

But the worst has already come to pass. Sea rescue missions have been criminalized.”

While they have not been named, nine of Pia’s crew members have also been charged with no exact date of trial yet.

The status of immigration in Italy eerily mirrors the turmoil in the United States. While Salvini has said they haven’t separated families, the government has left them to fend for themselves at sea while trying to flee countries ravaged by war. A Sicilian court has also declared that Salvini can be charged with kidnapping after denying 177 refugees safety after docking in Italy. These refugees were forced to stay on the boat for a week before finding assistances in other countries.

While it’s understandable to consider the safety of current residents of a country, it is not okay to treat other humans seeking asylum as undeserving of help. Nor should those assisting these humans be punished for doing so.

Please take a minute to sign the petition. No matter where you are, try and do what you can to support a positive, harmless immigration policy in your country and around the world.

Cover image via La Parisienne