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Former Italian politician charged with kidnapping after refusing to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily.

Former Italian politician charged with kidnapping after refusing to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily
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Former Italian politician charged with kidnapping after refusing to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily.

Matteo Salvini, the former Italian Interior Minister, has been charged with kidnapping and faces up to 15 years in prison for refusing to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily. Matteo Salvini, Italy’s right-wing former interior minister, was charged with abduction after refusing to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily in 2019, leaving the passengers onboard stranded at sea for days.

It is the first trial for Salvini, who served as interior minister from 2018 to 2019 in an uneasy alliance between the populist 5-Star Movement and his right-wing League. Salvini was present at the first day of the trial in Palermo, Sicily, which was anticipated to focus on procedural issues. By rejecting access to the Open Arms rescue ship and the 147 people on board, he said he was doing his job.

Earlier, an Italian judge has postponed the case against far-right leader Matteo Salvini, who is accused of illegally detaining migrants at sea, until November 20 so that he may hear from senior government officials, including Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. On Saturday, Salvini remained silent as he entered a closed-door hearing in Catania to determine whether he should face trial on charges that he abused his powers as interior minister to prevent 116 migrants from disembarking from the Italian Gregoretti coast guard boat last year, as part of his so-called “closed ports” policy.

Salvini might face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Prosecutors have requested that Conte, as well as Italy’s current Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, be added to the witness list. As sought by civil party Open Arms, the Spanish nonprofit that operated the rescue vessel, Judge Murgia ordered US actor Richard Gere would be permitted to testify as a witness.

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Before docking on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, the actor joined the ship in solidarity with the refugees. The attendance of the actor was not essential, according to prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi, since it would generate “spectacle” and there were more qualified witnesses.

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If the opposition leader and head of the anti-immigrant League party is convicted for more than two years, he might be disqualified from entering public office for six years, thereby barring him from competing for prime minister in 2023. Salvini has taken a tough stance against migrant arrivals, stopping ships and urging Europe to shoulder part of the weight.

Salvini is accused of dereliction of duty and abduction by prosecutors for refusing to let the ship into port for days in August 2019. Some migrants hurled themselves overboard in desperation during the almost three-week siege, and the captain begged for a safe, nearby port. Some refuges were transported to land for humanitarian or health reasons, while the remainder 83 were permitted to disembark at Lampedusa.

Oscar Camps, the leader of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, said, “we seek justice for the gratuitous pain that all the refugees endured in those 20 days.” Earlier this year, a judge in Catania, Sicily, opted not to prosecute Salvini in a similar case in which 116 migrants were held at sea for five days by an Italian coast guard ship, also in 2019.

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