Agence France-Presse, October 3, 2020
Italy’s far-right chief Matteo Salvini appears in court Saturday for allegedly illegally detaining migrants at sea, in a potentially career-derailing trial he has transformed into a political convention.
Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania accuse Salvini of abusing his powers as then-interior minister to block 116 migrants from disembarking from the Italian Gregoretti coastguard boat last year, under his so-called “closed ports” policy.
If the opposition leader and head of the anti-immigrant League party is convicted for more than two years, he could well also be barred from holding public office for six years, preventing him from running for prime minister at the next election in 2023.
Due to address a rally Saturday after the hearing, Salvini has said he’ll “plead guilty of having defended Italy and Italians”.
The 116 migrants, who hailed largely from Sudan, as well as central and western Africa, were rescued in the Mediterranean in two separate operations on July 25 last year after five days at sea. There were 15 unaccompanied minors among them.
The 15 minors were eventually allowed off on July 29 following pressure from Catania’s juvenile court.
The remaining migrants disembarked on July 31 after Salvini, 47, said a deal had been brokered with EU countries to take them.
Salvini, who has said Sicilian judges would be better off concentrating on jailing mafiosi than trying him, declared that it would be “the Italians, in the next elections, who will say whether I did the right thing or not”.