The trial of the leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, began on Saturday, on charges of detaining individuals and abuse of power when he was Italy’s interior minister in 2019.
Salvini prevented the disembarkation of 147 migrants rescued at sea by the non-governmental organization “Open Arms” in August 2019 and refused for six days to grant safe haven to the ship of the Spanish organization, which docked off the small Italian island of Lampedusa (southern Sicily) while the situation on board was deteriorating.
Italian senators had lifted Salvini, whose party is a member of the ruling coalition led by Mario Draghi, parliamentary immunity last February
Salvini attended the hearing at the Palermo court in Sicily, which included procedural requests such as witness lists. Among those summoned was US actor Richard Gere, who visited the migrants aboard the Open Arms after seeing their plight while on a family vacation in Italy.
Salvini insisted he was doing his duty by refusing to enter the ship, and said after the hearing: “It’s a surreal thing to stand trial for doing my job.”
He added, “I’m sorry because… I mean, tell me how serious a trial can be that Richard Gere will come from Hollywood to testify about my career.”
Demonstrators outside the court house demonstrated their opposition to Salvini’s policy toward immigrants with a symbolic art display.
Between January 1 and May 11, about 13,000 people arrived on the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily from the North African coast, three times the number in 2020 in the same period, and ten times what it was in 2019