The former Italian interior minister must be held accountable for abuse of office and deprivation of liberty.
Former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini will stand trial in the Sicilian city of Palermo on Saturday over the siege of a private naval rescue ship in 2019. The head of the ruling right-wing Lega party is accused of denying the “Open Arms” safe haven in August 2019. Salvini must be held accountable for Abuse of office and deprivation of liberty. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Saturday’s session dealt with the approval of the prosecution and defense witnesses’ lists and the presentation of various documents. The Attorney General’s Office summoned Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and three members of his cabinet at the time. The Spanish NGO Open Arms wants to question Hollywood star Richard Gere as a witness. Gere is supposed to testify because in August 2019 he visited the rescue ship “Open Arms”, which Salvini intercepted with about 150 migrants on board in the Mediterranean, and called for the support of the maritime rescuers.
Salvini, who attended the hearing in Palermo, told a news conference that he hoped the trial would not turn into a “film festival”. “I think I am the only minister in Europe who is being tried for doing his duty,” said the 48-year-old from Milan.
Salvini said he blocked the ship for 21 days at sea with the approval of Conte and then Deputy Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. He wanted to pressure other EU countries to participate in the redistribution of those who had been rescued from ordeal at sea. To justify Salvini’s actions, the defendant’s lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, said that there were people on the ship who potentially posed a danger to Italy’s safety, so Salvini refused to land.
Open Arms founder Oscar Camps also took part in Saturday’s court hearing. “We demand justice,” said the Spaniard. He said that saving human lives at sea should not be criminalized.
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