Matteo Salvini, head of the rightwing Lega Nord party, appeared in court over a 2019 order to bar migrants from disembarking onto Italy’s shores. The hearing was accompanied by rallies both in support and against the politician.
People from both camps marched through Catania on Saturday, the second-largest city in Sicily, chanting slogans and carrying banners either supporting or opposing Salvini’s cause. The rallies were held amid a heavy police presence as a preliminary hearing on Salvini’s case was heard at the city’s Palace of Justice.
Salvini, who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister until September 2019, was in court for the hearing on “aggravated kidnapping” charges brought against him. They relate to an incident last July when the right-wing politician denied a coastguard ship – that rescued 131 migrants, among them over a dozen unaccompanied minors – permission to dock in Sicily.
Protesters critical of his policies accuse him of violating human rights, one described Salvini’s rhetoric to Ruptly video agency as “mostly based on a preconception of racism and of social differences.” Meanwhile, people favoring Salvini, who chairs the anti-immigration Lega Nord party, insisted he did nothing wrong.
“Is it even possible that after all these years we are still a colony? That we still have to follow these people who will disembark in Sicily because they are convinced that a sandwich and a sausage are enough to get votes?” a pro-Salvini protester told Ruptly.
the Gregoretti, the vessel in question, was kept at sea for close to a week and was only allowed to disembark after France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal agreed to take the migrants. If found guilty of the “kidnapping” charges, Salvini could face up to 15 years behind bars; he may also be prohibited from holding a position of power for six years.
Salvini’s defense insists he did not act alone when ordering to close the Sicilian port, and that such a decision was made collectively by the government and that it was not illegal. Prosecutors believe that by denying the ship entry, Salvini broke international law that mandates the care of rescued people. A separate charge alleges that Salvini abused his power by depriving the migrants of their personal freedom.
It’s now for the preliminary hearing judges to decide if the case is robust enough for a full trial to take place. The politician himself earlier told the media that “I will plead guilty to defending Italy and the Italians.”
Further hearings have already been called for November and December. Judges have summoned as witnesses Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, and the former Infrastructure and Transport minister Danilo Toninelli. All three were part of the coalition government at that time with Salvini.
During his 14-month tenure as Interior Minister, Salvini advocated a hardline approach towards illegal immigration. Back in 2018, he declared Italian ports off-limits to migrant-filled rescue ships, sparking numerous standoffs between the vessels and Italian authorities.
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