ROME (AP) – A judge in Sicily on Saturday began considering whether to prosecute former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for refusing to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship dock in Italian ports in 2019, holding people at sea for days.
Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, was present for the preliminary hearing in the Palermo’s court bunker courtroom. He tweeted that he believed he was doing the right thing under Italian law, “defending the security and dignity of Italy” by refusing to board the Open Arms rescue ship.
The judge for the preliminary hearing, Lorenzo Iannelli, is deciding whether to try Salvini or file the case.
Palermo prosecutors accused Salvini of kidnapping, having held migrants in the sea off the coast of Lampedusa for days in August 2019. During the standoff, several migrants threw themselves into the sea in despair as the captain begged for a safe and close port. Finally after 19 days of ordeal, the remaining 83 migrants on the ship were allowed to disembark at Lampedusa.
Salvini has maintained a hard line on migration as interior minister during Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s reign, from 2018-2019. While demanding that EU countries do more to accept migrants arriving in Italy, Salvini argues that humanitarian rescue ships only encourage smugglers based in Libya and that his policies actually save lives by preventing risky journeys across the Mediterranean.