Judge Roberto Murgia announced that all witnesses presented by the parties will be able to testify, including the American representative Richard Gere, who made a humanitarian visit to the boat, and former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
American actor Richard Gere in 2014 Photo – Photo: AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI
Leader of the far-right anti-immigration Lega party and part of the prime minister’s ruling coalition Mario Draghi, accused of kidnapping and abuse of power to ban the disembarkation of 147 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the NGO Open Arms, in August 2019.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, sends a kiss after meeting the Italian president – Photo: Vincenzo Pinto / AFP
The hearing, which began on September 15 and was immediately postponed, was just a procedural step that lasted less than three hours, before Judge Murgia announced that the next hearing would take place on December 17. If convicted, Salvini could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
“Tell me how serious is the prosecution of Richard Gere of Hollywood for testifying about my evil,” Salvini told the press outside the courtroom. “I hope it will last as little as possible because there are more important things to take care of,” the politician added.
‘Closed Door’ Policy for Immigrants
Salvini, 48, says he worked for Italy with his “closed doors” policy to discourage migrants from sailing on African coasts to make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean.
He also claims that the decision was not made by him alone, but by the government, including the Prime Minister at the time, Giuseppe Conte.
The association claims that Italy bears an unfair burden of being the first point of entry into Europe for people from North Africa. The current Minister of the Interior, Luciana Lamorgese, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, are expected to testify.
The civilian part of the Spanish organization Open Arms that operated the rescue boat asked to attend as a witness for Gere, who entered the ship in a gesture of solidarity with the migrants, before the ship docked on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
“The process that the left and the supporters of illegal immigration wanted begins: how much will it cost Italian citizens?” Salvini asked. “This is the Palermo Prison Court,” Salvini wrote in a tweet from the courtroom on Twitter.
Ahead of the hearing, Open Arms founder and director Oscar Camps said the trial was not politically motivated. “Saving people is not a crime,” Camps told reporters. “It’s an obligation not just for captains but for the whole country.”
More than 400 immigrants landed
The start of the operation coincided with the arrival of 406 migrants, rescued in various operations off the coast of Libya by the NGO Sea Watch, in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.
For six days, the Italian authorities refused permission to enter a safe port for the boat of the Spanish organization, which was moored off the small Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, while the conditions of those on board worsened.
The migrants disembarked thanks to an order issued by the Sicilian justice after an inspection on the ship confirmed the health emergency and overcrowding inside the ship.
Italy’s Senate last year agreed to suspend Salvini’s parliamentary immunity, paving the way for a trial. A similar case in which Salvini was accused of preventing other migrants at sea from an Italian coast guard boat, was dismissed by a Catania court earlier this year.
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