dw– The trial of former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini opened on Saturday for his role in preventing the Open Arms migrant rescue ship from docking at an Italian port in 2019.
Salvini has been accused of deprivation of liberty and abuse of authority, for which he could face up to 15 years in prison.
The trial, in Palermo, Sicily, formally began on September 15. However, it was postponed to October 23 to find a larger courtroom to accommodate the media, civil parties, and lawyers.
Salvini tweeted a photo of himself as the trial opened, standing in front of a cell used for some defendants.
“This is the courtroom of the Palermo prison. The trial wanted by the left and by the fans of illegal immigration begins: how much will it cost the Italian citizens?” he tweeted.
Just ahead of the proceedings, Open Arms’ founder and director Oscar Camps said the trial was not politically motivated.
“Saving people isn’t a crime, but an obligation not only by captains but by the entire state,” Camps told reporters.
In the first hearing, the court was due to decide whether to admit the witnesses presented by the defense. Some witnesses have already been presented, including former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and other former ministers.
Salvini belongs to the nationalist League party, and served as interior minister from June 2018 to September 2019 in the first cabinet of ex-prime minister Giuseppe Conte.
Rescue vessel not allowed to dock
Spanish aid organization Open Arms had rescued more than 160 people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea over the course of three interventions in August 2019. The vessel was moored off Lampedusa, but not permitted to dock there.
The ship remained off the coast of southern Italy for about 19 days. Due to the heat, poor hygienic and living conditions on board, many migrants jumped into water and attempted to swim ashore.
Eventually, after the 19-day ordeal, the remaining 83 migrants still on board were allowed to disembark in Lampedusa after a court overturned Salvini’s ban on private rescue boats entering Italian waters.
Salvini has maintained that his actions were in the national interest. He had earlier faced allegations of kidnapping after refusing to let a group of migrants disembark from a ship.