Reportage. The former Italian Interior Minister prevented the Open Arms migrant rescue vessel from docking at Lampedusa in August, imprisoning people at sea for 20 days. Prosecutors are deciding whether to bring the charges.

Salvini faces kidnapping charges for trapping 164 people aboard a rescue ship

Since Saturday, the case file has been on the desk of the Palermo prosecutor, Francesco Lo Voi, who will have to decide whether or not to go ahead with prosecuting the charges that his colleagues from the Agrigento public prosecutor’s office, led by Salvatore Patronaggio, have proposed filing against Matteo Salvini. These are very serious charges: kidnapping and abuse of office, for impeding the landing of 164 migrants rescued by the ship of the Spanish NGO Open Arms for three weeks, during which the ship was forced to wait off the coast of the island of Lampedusa.

Matteo Salvini is facing the specter of a new “Diciotti” case, which was the ship belonging to the Italian Coast Guard that was stranded off the coast last year by the decision of the then-Interior Minister not to allow the migrants it had rescued in the Mediterranean to disembark. In that case, a majority in the Senate rejected the request by the Catania court to proceed with Salvini’s trial, thanks to the votes of the M5S, who got their then-ally off scot-free.

Today, however, if a similar request were to arrive before the Senate, things might go very differently for the Lega leader. The prosecutor in Palermo now has two weeks to make a decision before submitting the case to the Court of Ministers in the Sicilian capital. “Today I woke up under investigation,” Salvini commented on the news of the new investigation against him. “I will ask how much these investigations are costing, how much time they are wasting and how much public money the Italians are spending to investigate or prosecute Matteo Salvini as a dangerous kidnapper.”

The case concerns an incident in August, when the Open Arms ship, at the end of a series of rescues performed in international waters, reached Lampedusa carrying 164 people. It had to stay outside the port for 20 days, blocked because of the ban on entry into Italian national waters signed by Salvini along with Ministers Trenta and Toninelli in accordance with the Security Decree 2.0. To resolve the situation, which was becoming untenable, the chief prosecutor for Agrigento, Salvatore Patronaggio, conducted an inspection on board in which he ascertained the extreme and unsanitary conditions in which migrants and crew members were being forced to live.

The former Minister of the Interior faces charges as a result of the findings of the inspection performed by Patronaggio, but also as a result of the emergency injunction with which the Administrative Court of Lazio upheld the appeal of the NGO against the entry ban into Italian territorial waters. And, finally, the case against him is bolstered by the email with which the Coast Guard finally gave the go-ahead for the landing of migrants, distancing itself for the first time from the decisions made from the top of the Interior Ministry.

Many politicians from the Lega Nord are protesting against the charges initiated by the Agrigento prosecutor. The head of the Lega Nord group in the Chamber of Deputies, Riccardo Molinari, thinks “it’s crazy that an Interior Minister would be under investigation for making decisions that are fully within his powers, and who acted in the national interest.” 

But there were even more voices attacking the leader of the Lega, after he again claimed that he had defended the Italian borders with his decisions. “The idea that Salvini was the one who defended the honor and security of our country, as he claims, is a very comical notion,” said Nicola Fratoianni of the Sinistra Italiana-LeU. Father Alex Zanotelli had an even more cutting take: according to him, Salvini “should go on trial for his inhumanity. The terrible thing is that Salvini doesn’t feel the pain of anyone else, especially those who suffer,” said the priest from the order of the Comboni Missionaries.

Meanwhile, sea rescues in the Mediterranean are continuing. Wednesday, the Ocean Viking ship belonging to SOS Mediterranée and Doctors Without Borders rescued 94 people on board a damaged rubber boat. Among those rescued were 11 women, four of them pregnant, and six children.

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