Salvini due in court for blocking migrant rescue ship

The head of the right-wing Lega party could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

Italy’s former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is due to stand trial on Saturday in the Sicilian capital Palermo for his role in preventing the Open Arms migrant rescue ship from docking at an Italian port in 2019.

The prosecution accuses Salvini of deprivation of liberty and abuse of authority after he prevented the Spanish aid organisation’s ship from entering a port during his time as minister.

If found guilty, the head of the right-wing Lega party, who has built much of his political fortune on an anti-immigration campaign, could face up to 15 years in prison.

Salvini was interior minister from June 2018 to September 2019 in the first cabinet of ex-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Al Jazeera’s Adam Raney, reporting from Rome, said prosecutors have submitted “a list of more than two dozen witnesses to testify in this trial”.

“They are pretty high-profile, including the former PM Conte and actor Richard Gere because he volunteered for a period on one of these ships,” Raney said.

“We also expect Salvini to appear,” he added.

In August 2019, the Open Arms vessel had rescued more than 150 people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea over the course of three interventions starting on August 1, according to information supplied by the aid organisation.

It was moored off Lampedusa from around mid-August but was not allowed to dock. The sanitary situation and tension on board came to a head as desperate people kept jumping into the water in an attempt to swim ashore.

In the end, the public prosecutor’s office arranged for the Open Arms to be impounded following an onboard inspection, which meant that it could dock with the remaining migrants.

Salvini repeatedly stressed that his actions had been in defence of Italy and in the government’s interest. The trial formally began on September 15 but was immediately postponed, as had been expected, to October 23.

The leader is also under investigation for another, similar standoff involving the Italian coastguard ship Gregoretti that Salvini refused to allow permission to dock in the summer of 2019.

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