An Italian prosecutor called at the weekend for Matteo Salvini, ex-Minister of the Interior and still leader of Italian party The League, to be tried for kidnapping over his decision to prevent more than 100 migrants from landing in the country in 2019.
The prosecutor asked for the indictment in a preliminary hearing in Palermo, Sicily. The final decision on whether to proceed rests with a senior judge.
Salvini’s decision, made when his party was in coalition government and he was Minister for the Interior, left the migrants stranded at sea until prosecutors ordered the seizure of the ship and the evacuation of the people on board.
Salvini responded by stating that he was not worried about the prosecutor’s application, which Salvini said was part of a long-running legal process. Last year Italy’s Senate authorised the court to pursue the alleged kidnapping investigation.
Salvini said that “I am proud to have worked to protect my country, respecting the law, waking up Europe and saving lives. If this should cause me problems and suffering, I’ll gladly take it on”.
Salvini spent 14 months as Interior Minister, often in conflict with the Ministry of Transport, whose occupant was a member of then coalition partner Five Star. During that time Salvini stopped several boats from docking in Italy in an effort to halt migrant flows. He accused migrant rescue charities of implicitly encouraging people smuggling. His actions did have an impact. The number of migrants leaving North Africa for Italy fell away significantly. Since he has been gone, they have begun to rise again.
Salvini faces up to 15 years in prison if he is eventually found guilty. A definitive conviction could bar him from government office.
Open Arms, the charity which operated the migrant rescue ship at the heart of the case, is supporting the prosecution, It said that “violating the rights of vulnerable people is a crime in any democratic country,” it wrote on Twitter.