Italy’s former interior minister and far-right leader Matteo Salvini went on trial for allegedly illegally blocking over 100 migrants in dire sanitary conditions from disembarking from a rescue ship.
Salvini, the leader of the right-wing Lega party who is known for an “Italians first” policy, is charged with kidnapping and abuse of office for using his position as interior minister to detain the 147 migrants at sea in August 2019.
On the opening day of the trial on Saturday in Palermo, prosecutors asked that they be allowed to question Salvini, who was present in court, on the stand.
The hearing, which came 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 who has built much of his political fortune on an anti-immigration campaign could face up to 15 years in prison.
He has said the decision was not his alone, but agreed by the government, including by the then-prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.
Prosecutors have asked that the witness list include Conte, as well as Italy’s current Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
Judge Murgia said US actor Richard Gere would be allowed to take the stand as a witness, 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.
Salvini tweeted a photo of himself inside the courtroom, standing in front of one of the cells used for some defendants.
“This is the courtroom of the Palermo prison. The trial wanted by the left and by the fans of illegal immigration begins: how much will it cost the Italian citizens?” he tweeted.
Salvini has also ridiculed the actor’s presence at the trial. “You tell me how serious a trial is where Richard Gere will come from Hollywood to testify about my nastiness,” he told journalists outside the courtroom.Ahead of the hearing, Open Arms’ founder and director Oscar Camps said the trial was not politically motivated. “Saving people isn’t a crime, but an obligation not only by captains but by the entire state,” Camps told journalists.