German Rackete was arrested after knocking into a police speed boat while entering the port of the southern island of Lampedusa without permission on Saturday, after her ship had been banned from docking by Italian authorities.
Her move ended a two-week stand-off at sea.
“I was relieved about the judge's decision, which I see as a big win for solidarity with all people on the move including refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and against the criminalisation of helpers in many countries across Europe,” Rackete said in a statement from Sea-Watch.
“I was very touched by the solidarity expressed to me by so many people,”the German said.
“Even though the attention is on me, it was as a team that we rescued the people, took care of them and brought them to safety.”
The judge said the anti-immigration security decree was “not applicable in the case of rescues”.
The decision was met with fury by Italy's far-right and hardline Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, the architect of the controversial decree.
A demonstrator in Sicily holds a sign reading 'Salvini is the only captian', in reference to the nickname the minister has given himself. Photo: AFP
In a flurry of angry tweets late on Tuesday, he accused the judge of “playing politics” and demanded: “What do you have to do to go to jail in Italy? I'm ashamed of those who allow the first thug from abroad to arrive in this country and disobey the laws and put the lives of the military at risk. Bad sign, Mr. Judge.”
#Salvini in diretta Facebook:Non ho parole. Cosa bisogna fare per finire in galera in Italia? Mi vergogno di chi permette che in questo Paese arrivi il primo delinquente dall'estero e disubbidisca alle leggi e metta a rischio la vita dei militari. Pessimo segnale signor giudice.
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) July 2, 2019
Rackete, 31, has defended her actions, saying she was compelled to avert a human tragedy and bring the migrants ashore after more than two weeks at sea.
“It wasn't an act of violence, but only one of disobedience,” Rackete told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Sunday.
Rackete had faced charges of abetting illegal immigration and forcing her way past a police vessel that tried to block the Sea-Watch 3 – the latter crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
We are relieved our captain is free! ❤️? There were no grounds to keep her arrested, as here only 'wrongdoing' was to enforce human rights on the Mediterranean and to take responsibility where none of the European governments did. #FreeCarola #FreeCarolaRackete #CarolaRackete
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) July 2, 2019
Earlier on Tuesday, German NGO Sea-Watch vowed to continue rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.
“We will continue to make sure human rights are respected in the Mediterranean… if necessary with a new ship if our own ship (Sea-Watch 3) remains impounded” in Italy, group spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told reporters in Berlin.
The case has ignited a diplomatic row between Rome and Berlin amid a continuing failure to coordinate migration policy within the European Union.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday called for Rackete's release following judicial proceedings “based on the rule of law”.
The migrants were allowed to disembark at Lampedusa and taken to a reception centre as they prepared to travel to either France, which has said it would take in 10, or to Germany, Finland, Luxembourg or Portugal.