Former Deputy Prime Minister and current leader of the Italian right-wing League party Matteo Salvini must stand trial for kidnapping, Palermo Judge Lorenzo Janelli ruled Saturday. This comes after he blocked 147 migrants at sea in August 2019 on board a vessel owned by Spanish NGO Open Arms, a non-profit organization aiming to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and provide first aid at sea and inland.
An indictment of the former minister was requested by Chief Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi as well as 23 civil parties acting as representatives of Open Arms. A civil action was also filed by nine migrants on board the boat which was blocked off the coast of Lampedusa.
According to a brief filed by the former Minister, he was simply following orders for the “redistribution of migrants in Europe.” This was rejected by Janelli. He further cited Article 52 of the Italian Constitution, claiming that “the defense of the homeland is the sacred duty of the citizen” in a tweet, claiming that he will go on trial with his “head held high” declaring “Prima l’Italia,” meaning Italy first, a popular right-wing slogan.
Oscar Camps, founder of Open Arms has claimed that “Violating a fundamental right such as the protection of human beings at sea for political propaganda is shameful and hurts me as a rescuer.” He views the trial as an opportunity to put the democratic principles on which European constitutions are based back at the center.
The prosecution is set to base its case on an announcement of the UN Human Rights Committee on January 29, which condemned the Italian government for having intervened too late in the rescue of a boat, despite numerous distress calls, amounting to a violation of the right to life of more than 200 migrants.
The defense has stated that “the accusatory hypothesis is completely unfounded” as Salvini was under “no obligation to provide a safe haven”.
Further, the Municipality of Barcelona has opted to become a civil party to the proceedings, “for any damage to the values and image of Barcelona” caused by Salvini’s accusations and also due to “an increase in costs and a slowdown in the mission and activities subject to municipal funding” of Open Arms.
The hearing is set to take place on September 15, though Janelli has clarified that this will be for the purposes of ascertaining the existence of the conditions for holding trial as opposed to formulating a guilty judgment.