A German boat captain faces 20 years in jail in Italy for rescuing 1,000 migrants in the Mediterranean after being accused of colluding with smugglers.
Pia Klemp, 35, could be tried and imprisoned for helping people enter Europe illegally from the North African coast.
Italian authorities allege that she colluded with smugglers to collect migrants at Mediterranean rendezvous points and stage rescues at sea.
Undercover officers took pictures that allegedly showed human traffickers “escorting” vessels full of migrants before they were transferred to aid boats.
Human traffickers in Libya are known to be extorting thousands of dollars from migrants who arrive in the country trying to reach Europe.
The ships used to transport them are often not seaworthy or are deliberately sabotaged, forcing humanitarian vessels to stage rescues.
Klemp, who is from the German city of Bonn, is a member of Sea Watch, an NGO which deploys vessels to rescue asylum seekers in the Mediterranean.
Her supporters, 80,000 of whom have signed a petition urging Italy to drop the charges, say she is a humanitarian who has been personally responsible for hundreds of genuine rescues.
Klemp has been under investigation since her vessel, the Iuventa, was impounded in the summer of 2017.
Italy has now moved to ban her from sailing near their coasts altogether.
Speaking to Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung, Klemp said the money she had already used in her defense could have been used on rescue missions.
“But the worst has already come to pass,” she added. “Sea rescue missions have been criminalized.”
After coming to power in June 2018, Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister began refusing to let some rescue boats dock in Italian ports, insisting that other European countries begin taking a greater share of migrants.
Speaking at the time, he said that the deaths of anyone drowning while trying to reach Europe should “weigh on the conscience of the traffickers and the do-gooders”.
Migrant arrivals from North Africa and the Middle East have sharply reduced since a peak in 2015 when Europe faced its worst migration crisis since World War II.