Italy’s Salvini goes on trial, accused of ‘kidnapping’ refugees | Italy
In 2019, the right-wing extremist leader, then Minister of the Interior, refused to allow more than 100 refugees to disembark from a ship.
Rome, Italy – Matteo Salvini appears in court on Saturday for kidnapping more than a hundred migrants in case the right-wing Italian leader tried to increase his dwindling popularity.
The case relates to an incident in July 2019 when, as Interior Minister, he refused to disembark 131 refugees and migrants – including 15 unaccompanied children – from the Gregoretti Coast Guard ship in Sicily for five days.
Prosecutors in the southern Sicilian city of Catania accuse Salvini, leader of the party of the far-right league, of abuse of power. He faces up to 15 years in prison for serious kidnapping.
“If the court finds him innocent, he will emerge from his current decline with renewed vigor as he can play the card of the victim of justice,” said Anna Simone, professor of sociology at Roma Tre University. “But if he is convicted, it will be Salvini’s political downfall.”
An interim hearing judge will decide on Saturday whether the case is strong enough to move on to the trial.
“I will go to court reassured and with a clear conscience to save lives and defend my country,” said Salvini on Friday in the Sicilian city, where he has been holding rallies for three days.
A stream of his political supporters, from right-wing extremist leader Giorgia Meloni to representatives of the right-wing Forza Italia party led by Silvio Berlusconi, is expected. A police force of 500 was deployed to prevent clashes between them Salvini fans and left-wing protesters.
If the court decides to proceed, it will be the first time Salvini’s “closed ports” policy has been tried.
When Salvini took office as Interior Minister in 2018, he declared Italy’s ports forbidden to rescue ships, sparking a series of clashes between rescue ships and the Italian authorities.
Although no date has been set, a second hearing awaits Salvini in August last year regarding the illegal detention of 107 migrants aboard the Open Arms rescue ship.
Prosecutors believe that by closing ports, Salvini violated international law under which Italy had a responsibility to provide a “place of safety” to rescued people.
Another charge is that Salvini abused his power by robbing the people on board the Gregoretti of their personal freedom.
For his part, Salvini claims that he acted for the “common interest” and that the wait was necessary to reach an agreement with other countries on the redistribution of refugees and migrants.
His defense team emphasizes that the decision to hold the group of people was made together with the government.
A rescued refugee disembarks from the Italian coastguard ship Gregoretti in Augusta [Antonio Parrinello/Reuters]Salvini’s popularity began to decline in August last year when he tried to spark an early election by unplugging a fragmented government coalition between the league and the populist five-star movement.
His gamble failed when his former coalition partners smoothed their differences with the center-left Democratic Party and formed an unlikely alliance.
“Then he lost his institutional credibility. since then it’s been a steady decline, ”said Simone.
Some observers believe that the Salvini trial shows that Italy is taking abuse of refugees and migrants more seriously.
In the local elections two weeks ago, the left Democratic Party made gains and increased its leverage over its populist coalition partner.
As a first step, the party requested a revision of Salvini’s anti-migrant decrees, which is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.
The two trials limit “a free fall of xenophobic sentiments,” said Arturo Salerni, Open Arms lawyer and president of the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties.
“The fact that the court says that a minister must be tried for kidnapping in two different cases because people’s human rights and international conventions cannot be considered waste paper is a guarantee that certain things will not get done can impunity, ”said Salerni.