Italian far-right leader Salvini in court over migrant trial – .

Italian far-right leader Salvini in court over migrant trial – .

Palermo (Italy) (AFP)

Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, known for his “Italians first” policy, is accused of kidnapping and abuse of power for having used his post as Minister of the Interior to detain the 147 migrants at sea in August 2019.

On the opening day of the trial in Palermo, prosecutors asked to be allowed to question Salvini, who was present in court, on the stand.

The hearing, which took place a month after the trial was first postponed, was largely procedural and lasted less than three hours before Judge Roberto Murgia set the next hearing for December 17.

If found guilty, Salvini could face a maximum of 15 years in prison.

He said the decision was not his own, but accepted by the government, including then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Prosecutors requested that the list of witnesses include Conte, as well as current Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Judge Murgia said US actor Richard Gere would be allowed to testify, as requested by civil party Open Arms, the Spanish charity that operated the rescue vessel.

The actor had boarded the ship in solidarity with the migrants before it docked at the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi had previously told the court that the actor’s presence was not required as it would create a “spectacle” and that there were more qualified witnesses.

Salvini tweeted a photo of himself inside the courtroom, standing in front of one of the cells used for some of the accused.

“This is the courtroom of the Palermo prison. The trial wanted by the left and by the supporters of illegal immigration begins: how much will it cost Italian citizens? He tweeted.

Ahead of the hearing, Open Arms founder and director Oscar Camps said the trial was not politically motivated.

“Saving people is not a crime, but an obligation not only for the captains but for the whole state,” Camps told reporters.

The trial began as 406 migrants rescued during various operations off the Libyan coast by the German charity ship Sea Watch 3 arrived at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo to be disembarked.

“Closed ports” policy

In the Open Arms 2019 case, the migrants were finally allowed to leave the ship after six days, by order of the prosecution.

A subsequent on-board inspection revealed severe overcrowding and dire sanitary conditions.

Salvini defended himself firmly, saying he was protecting the country with his “closed ports” policy, which aimed to prevent people from attempting the dangerous crossing from the Mediterranean to Italy.

The Italian Senate voted last year to remove Salvini from his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for the trial.

A related case in which Salvini was accused of stranding other migrants at sea on an Italian coastguard boat was dismissed by a court in Catania earlier this year.

Salvini’s League takes a hard line on migrants, saying Italy bears an unfair burden as the first point of entry into Europe for those arriving from North Africa.

When he blocked the ships, Salvini was part of a coalition government and held the posts of interior minister and deputy prime minister.


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