Former Italian Interior Minister and far-right leader, Matteo Salvini, was charged on Saturday for illegally preventing 147 rescued migrants from disembarking from a rescue ship and detaining them in deplorable conditions.
Salvini was present at the opening hearing in Palermo, Sicily, which was rescheduled after being postponed for a month. The session was supposed to be mostly procedural, with judge Roberto Murgia deciding on the admissibility of both parties’ witness lists.
Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party and a proponent of a “Italians first” policy, has been charged with the kidnapping and abuse of power for allegedly detaining 147 migrants at sea in August 2019. The 48-year-old has stated that the decision was not made solely by him, but by the government as a whole, including then-Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte.
Prosecutors have requested that Conte, as well as Italy’s current Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese, and Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, be added to the witness list. Salvini posted a photo on Twitter of himself inside the courtroom, standing in front of one of the defendants’ cells.
“This is the courtroom of the Palermo prison. The trial wanted by the left and by the fans of illegal immigration begins: how much will it cost the Italian citizens?” he tweeted.
The Founder and Director of the Spanish nonprofit organisation, Open Arms, which managed the rescue ship, claimed that the trial was not politically motivated. “Saving people isn’t a crime, but an obligation not only by captains but by the entire state,” Oscar Camps told journalists.
The trial began when 406 migrants were rescued by the German charity ship Sea Watch 3 in several operations off the coast of Libya and arrived at the Sicilian town of Pozzalla.
In the 2019 Open Arms case, migrants were ultimately permitted to disembark the vessel after 6 days, thanks to a prosecutor’s ruling. Following an onboard examination, excessive overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions were discovered.
Salvini has vehemently defended himself, claiming that his “closed ports” policy was designed to deter migrants from making the perilous Mediterranean passage to Italy. Italy’s Senate voted last year to strip Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for the trial.
A related case in which Salvini was accused of blocking other migrants at sea on an Italian coastguard boat was thrown out by a court in Catania earlier this year. Salvini’s League takes a hard line on migrants, arguing that Italy bears an unfair burden as the first point of entry into Europe for those arriving from northern Africa.
When he blocked the ships, Salvini was part of a coalition government and held the positions of Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.