Italy: Salvini could face jail for 'detaining migrants at sea'

Matteo Salvini could face 15 years in JAIL after Italy’s senate allows him to be tried for ‘illegally detaining migrants at sea’

  • Vote passed 149 to 141 with one abstention in the Italian senate in Rome today
  • He is accused of using his power to illegally prevent more than 80 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean from disembarking the Open Arms charity ship 
  • ‘If anyone thinks the are going to scare me with a politically-motivated trial, you’ve got the wrong man,’ Matteo Salvini said before the vote 

The Italian Senate voted today to strip far-right chief Matteo Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for him to be tried for allegedly illegally detaining migrants at sea.

The vote, which passed by 149 to 141 with one abstention, opens the way for a fresh and potentially career-derailing trial on charges that could see Salvini, a senator, serve up to 15 years in jail.   

‘If anyone thinks the are going to scare me with a politically-motivated trial, you’ve got the wrong man,’ Salvini told the senate ahead of the vote.

The head of the anti-immigrant League party is also set to stand trial in a separate but similar case.

Italian senator and Lega party far-right leader Matteo Salvini, acknowledges the applause by his party colleagues, after his speech today at Italy’s Senate in Rome before the votes on whether Salvini should be stripped of his parliamentary immunity so he can be tried for the second time for allegedly illegally detaining migrants at sea

Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Palermo accuse Salvini of abusing his powers as then-interior minister in August 2019 to illegally prevent more than 80 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean from disembarking from the Open Arms charity ship.

Ministers cannot be tried for actions taken while in office unless their parliamentary immunity is revoked by the Senate.

The vote is expected at around 1600 GMT.

‘Defending Italy is not a crime. I am proud of it, I would do it again, and I will do it again,’ Salvini said on Wednesday.

He has insisted the decision to stop the migrants from getting off the ship until a deal was brokered with EU countries to take them in was reached collectively within the government.

That is the same defence Salvini is using in the other trial, in which he is accused of blocking migrants from disembarking from the Italian ‘Gregoretti’ coast guard boat last July.

In February, the Senate voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity in that case. The preliminary hearing has been postponed thrice due to the coronavirus pandemic, and is now scheduled to take place in Sicily on October 3. 

Political analyst Franco Pavoncello said a go-ahead from the Senate on the Open Arms trial would ‘certainly have an impact on Salvini’, whose popularity has dropped since the coronavirus pandemic swept through Italy.

Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Palermo accuse Salvini of abusing his powers as then-interior minister in August 2019 to illegally prevent more than 80 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean from disembarking from the Open Arms charity ship (pictured as an Italian police boat sails toward the Spanish rescue ship)

Salvini, 47, says Italy’s over two-month lockdown hit him and his party hard, as he had to put an end to his frequent rallies up and down the country and his famous beachside selfie sessions.

A Demopolis poll this week found that the League has dropped over 11 points in a year, from holding 37 percent of voting intentions to 25.4 percent today.

‘At the moment Salvini generates little media interest. The decision to strip him of his immunity would re-open the case and could whip up media attention,’ Pavoncello told AFP.

‘Those who vote to send him to trial in a bid to create political problems for him could end up giving him the limelight instead.’

He warned, however, that while Salvini may make temporary gains, ‘a trial could be difficult for him in the long term, for the charges are serious’.

Salvini is currently in opposition but is determined to become prime minister.

Although the League may be slipping down the polls, it is still the most popular party in Italy and its leader expects to do well at the next elections.

A conviction, however, could throw a serious spanner in the works.

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