A 29-year-old man who says his name is Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre has been on trial in Palermo a year and a half for human trafficking. In what looks to be a case of mistaken identity, the authorities arrested him because they believed him to be Medhanie Yehdego Mered, known as “The General,” the mastermind behind human trafficking in the Mediterranean over the past few years.
The Italian authorities had been seeking Mared since the dramatic shipwreck of the Lampedusa on October 3, 2013, in which 368 people died and at least 20 remain missing.
Behre was arrested at the Asmara Corner Café in Khartum, Sudan, by the Sudanese police on May 2016 after a long international investigation led by the Italian, English and Sudanese secret services. He was extradited to Italy on a special flight on June 7, 2016.
Amongst the journalists who have followed the case is Stefano Colombo, who writes for thesubmarine.it. In a post published on Nov. 13, he shares what was found by Lorenzo Tondo, a journalist from Palermo who has been following the case for The Guardian.
Mi occupo di questa cosa da un anno e mezzo, da quando c’è stato lo scambio di persona,” ci racconta, “doveva essere l’arresto del peggior trafficante di uomini, ma già appena l’abbiamo visto all’aeroporto ci siamo resi conto che con Mered non c’entrava un cazzo.”
Si scopre poi che mentre la procura di Palermo dava la caccia a Mered, questo — il vero trafficante! — era in carcere a Dubai per una questione di passaporti falsi. Ecco spiegato il suo silenzio totale sui social media. “È tornato in libertà ad agosto 2016,” ci conferma Tondo. Berhe, invece, è ancora in carcere, e non sembra che potrà tornare in libertà a breve. Finora il processo ha cambiato 4 volte giudice, e secondo la legge italiana, ogni volta che il giudice cambia, il processo va rifatto da capo.
“I have been following this situation for a year and a half, ” he says” it should be the arrest of the biggest human trafficker, but as soon as we saw him in the airport we realized Mered had nothing to do with it.”
While the Tribunal of Palermo was hunting Mered down, he—the actual trafficker—was in jail in Dubai for faking passports. This explains his complete silence on social media. “He was freed in August of 2106,” Tondo confirms. Berthe, instead, is still in jail and it doesn't look like he'll be out anytime soon. The trial has changed judges four times. According to Italian law, whenever the judge changes the trial must restart.
On July 4, the site newsicilia.it revealed that the defense presented two witnesses, who now have asylum in Sweden, who say with certainty that the man arrested is not Mered.
Oggi, però, ci sarebbero i due testimoni pronti a dimostrare che Mered non sarebbe il latitante ricercato da due anni. Ma un giovane di nome Mered Tesfamarian. Come anticipa il giornale britannico The Guardian, uno dei due testimoni sarebbe Ambesyer Yeman, 23 anni, rifugiato eritreo, arrivato in Italia con l’organizzazione di Mered nel 2013.
“Non conosco il ragazzo che hanno arrestato, l’ho visto nella foto di un articolo pubblicato su Facebook, e ho detto immediatamente: ‘Ma questo non è Mered”, ha detto il ragazzo.
Today, there would be two witnesses ready to testify that Mered is not the criminal wanted for over two years, but a young man named Mered Tesfamarian. As the Guardian reports, one of the two witnesses is Ambesyer Yeman, 23, an Eritrean refugee arrived in Italy with Meted's organization in 2013.
“I don't know the man who's been arrested. I saw a photo of him published on Facebook and I immediately said, ‘this is not Mered,’ said the young man.
Further, Tondo revealed on his Facebook page that Italian prosecutors had recorded one of his conversations. His post was widely seen, receiving over 500 likes.
Ieri è successa una cosa davvero spiacevole. Una cosa che in Italia, nella mia categoria, è considerata oramai pericolosamente ‘’normalità’’, ordinaria amministrazione, un ‘’incidente di percorso’’ come tanti altri: la procura di Palermo ha intercettato alcune mie conversazioni con una fonte, un ragazzo eritreo che mi aiutava anche come interprete nelle interviste in tigrino sul ‘’Caso Mered’’, il clamoroso scambio di persona di un rifugiato arrestato per errore perché ritenuto essere un trafficante di uomini.
Yesterday something unfortunate happened. Something that in Italy, in my professional category, is considered dangerously “normal,” business as usual, a hiccup like many others. Palermo's prosecutors have wiretapped some of my conversations with a source, a young Eritrean man who was helping me with interviews on the “Mered matter,” the identity mistake of a refugee arrested by mistake because believed to be a human trafficker.
With similar investigation techniques, one wonders whether the Italian judiciary is looking for the actual culprit or a victim to sacrifice as such to end the issue.
To try to do something concrete on this story, Abdoulaye Bah, the author of this post, supported by a large group of activists, readers and specialists, is launching a petition that we ask you to sign:
Chiediamo che venga rilasciato immediatamente e che l’Italia ammetta il proprio errore pubblicamente, presenti le proprie scuse a Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre.
We demand that Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre be released immediately and that Italy publicly admits its mistake, with apologies.