Brussels (Brussels Morning) Italian populist right-wing senator Matteo Salvini will have to stand trial for his actions as then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior in 2019, when he prevented more than 100 migrants from landing in the country, Reuters reported.
A Sicilian judge ruled the leader of the League party will face trial on 15 September, which will entail a tortuous, three-stage judicial process. Salvini will face scrutiny over his decision to leave the migrants stranded at sea, breaching international law, until local prosecutors ordered the ship seized and the migrants on board evacuated.
“I am going to trial with my head held high, in your name as well as mine”, Salvini tweeted soon after the ruling. “Italy first,always. Defending our country is a citizen’s sacred duty … that is what I am being tried for”.
Salvini built his public image on anti-immigration sentiment, and heavily publicised his decisions whenever he attempted to block migrants from entering the country during his term as Interior Minister. Riding a surge in popularity, Salvini pulled his party from the coalition government in 2019, hoping to strengthen his position in snap elections. However, he was ultimately out-manoeuvred as a new coalition was formed.
When that coalition dissolved earlier this year, Prime Minister Mario Draghi formed a national unity government, which Salvini supports but without holding any ministerial office, since Draghi made a point of not awarding party leaders positions in his cabinet in order to minimise infighting.
The Sicilian judge’s decision has been welcomed by Proactiva Open Arms, the Spanish NGO which operated the migrant rescue ship at the heart of the Salvini case. “Violating a fundamental right such as the protection of human beings at sea for the sake of political propaganda is shameful”, NGO head Oscar Camps observed.
If found guilty, Salvini could face up to 15 years in prison. Moreover, a conviction confirmed by all court instances would prevent him from ever holding government office in the future. His party remains the most popular in the country, polling at some 23%, although its support has been in decline in recent months, and is currently running far below its 2019 peak.