Former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and his lawyer Giulia Bongiorno, before the court in Palermo, Italy, on Saturday, October 23, 2021. GREGORIO BORGIA / AP
He is accused of having stranded 147 migrants at sea in August 2019 in disastrous sanitary conditions, refusing them to land on Italian soil. Former interior minister Matteo Salvini went to the opening of his trial, Saturday 23 October, in Palermo.
Witnesses to the trial of the far-right leader will include Luciana Lamorgese and Luigi Di Maio, current interior and foreign ministers, as well as Giuseppe Conte, chairman of the council at the time, and American actor Richard Gere. The latter had boarded the Open Arms ship in August 2019 to support migrants. His arrival was requested by Open Arms, the association that operated the stranded rescue ship and became a civil party in the lawsuit.
Its founder and director, Oscar Camps, assured reporters that the trial was not politically motivated. “Saving people is not a crime but an obligation, not only for the captains, but for the entire state,” he said.
The trial of Mr. Salvini, who faces up to fifteen years in prison, began on September 15 but was returned immediately. Saturday’s largely procedural hearing lasted less than three hours and Judge Roberto Murgia has set the next hearing for December 17. “Tell me about the seriousness of a trial where Richard Gere comes from Hollywood to testify to my wickedness,” Mr. Salvini quipped in front of journalists outside the court. “I hope it will last as short as possible because there are more important things to take care of. “
Matteo Salvini, 48, is the leader of the far-right anti-migrant party League, which belongs to the ruling coalition led by Mario Draghi. He was interior minister and deputy prime minister in Mr. Conte’s first government, from June 2018 to September 2019.
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In this trial, Mr. Salvini is accused of kidnapping people and abuse of power for having prohibited the disembarkation of 147 migrants rescued at sea by the NGO Open Arms in August 2019. He had refused for six days to grant a Safe harbor for the Spanish NGO ship which anchored off the small Italian island of Lampedusa (south of Sicily) as conditions on board worsened.
The migrants were only allowed to disembark thanks to an order issued by the Sicilian justice after an on-board inspection which had confirmed the seriousness of the health situation on the overcrowded ship.
Known for his controversial statements, especially on immigration, Mr. Salvini assures that he acted for the good of Italy and to dissuade migrants from embarking on the African coasts for a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, stressing that the decision had been validated by the government of the day and Mr. Conte.
“This is the Palermo prison court”, had tweeted Mr. Salvini from the room before the opening of the hearing, with a photo of himself standing in front of a cell reserved for certain accused. “The trial wanted by the left and the fans of illegal immigration begins: how much will it cost Italian citizens? He added.
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Twenty-three civil parties, including nine migrants who were on board, are represented at the trial. The Senate voted last year to lift Mr. Salvini’s parliamentary immunity, paving the way for his trial.
In a similar case, the court in Catania, also in Sicily, ordered at the beginning of October the prosecution of Mr. Salvini, accused of having blocked at sea a hundred migrants rescued by the ship Gregoretti of the guards. Italian coasts, still during the summer of 2019.
While the hearing was taking place in Palermo on Saturday, 406 migrants, rescued during several operations off Libya by the German ship Sea-Watch 3 of the NGO Sea-Watch, arrived in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo for disembark, according to the Italian agency AGI.
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