Thursday

9th Feb 2023

Salvini relishes possible migration 'kidnapping' trial

  • 'It's crazy, I don't know how much it costs in terms of personnel and money to prove that I'm a criminal, but I'm not afraid and I will explain that I defended my country,' Salvini told the Italian newspaper La Stampa (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The Italian Senate will vote on Wednesday (12 February) whether the far-right leader Matteo Salvini should be brought to court for 'kidnapping' 131 migrants last year, when as the interior minister he prevented them from disembarking but forced them to stay aboard the Gregoretti coastguard ship.

The court in the city of Catania, which is a special tribunal in charge of investigations into ministers, recommended last month to bring legal action against Salvini for illegally detaining migrants on board the Gregoretti for six days last July.

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However, the head of the populist League party said that he defended Italy when he blocked the entrance of this, and other, boats to the Italian ports.

"It's crazy, I don't know how much it costs in terms of personnel and money to prove that I'm a criminal, but I'm not afraid and I will explain that I defended my country," Salvini told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Likewise, the Italian politician said that he carried out his policy of "closed ports" to try to pressure the rest of EU member states to accept the relocation of migrants - although NGOs and human rights activists accused him of breaking international law by denying disembarkation.

Meanwhile, Salvini has seemingly decided to embrace the trials against him and use them as a political weapon.

Yet, he could face up to 15 years in prison and be forced to pay large fines if he found guilty.

On January 20, the League voted in the senate's immunity panel in favour of allowing his trial, as a move to win votes before the regional elections were held in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria - in which he in fact lost to the Democratic Party (PD).

However, that vote was not binding since the final decision belongs to the senate.

'Ready for prison'

Back then, he said he was "ready to go to prison" for defending Italy's borders.

In less than two years, there were about 25 stand-offs between rescue vessels and Italian authorities as a result of Salvini's policies, but some of these end up under the investigation of prosecutors.

As a result, at least three of them refer to the alleged kidnapping of asylum seekers.

In March 2019, he refused to allow 177 migrants from the coast guard ship Ubaldo Diciotti to disembark and during the summer he rejected the entrance of the Gregoretti coastguard ship with 131 migrants onboard and the NGO rescue ship Open Arms with 161 migrants on board.

The senate immunity panel will vote on whether he should face trial for the Open Arms case on 27 February.

Salvini is currently in the opposition after the coalition government with his partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), failed last August.

But, although Salvini has called for snap elections, the M5S and the PD formed a coalition to avoid the far-right League entering the government again.

However, according to the polls, Salvini's party counts on 36-percent of support nationwide.

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Open Arms may face a fine of up to €901,000 for doing "search and rescue" without authorisation, but rescuing people who are shipwrecked is a legal duty, the NGO says.

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