Analysis. The prime minister claims to be ‘stupefied.’ But her ranting against a Catania judge for a sound detention ruling is a page from the Berlusconi textbook.

The reality behind Meloni’s propaganda against a Catania judge

She began by claiming she was “stupefied,” like a character from a soap opera. Then she voiced outrage about the supposed existence of “a small part of Italy that is helping illegal arrivals.” She added: “I’m not just talking about the ideologized left and the circuit which has its own rich interests in matters of reception.” In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni directly attacked Catania Judge Iolanda Apostolico, who on Saturday dared to apply the law and invalidate the detention of four migrants locked up in the Pozzallo center.

Meloni claimed the reasons for Apostolico’s ruling were “unbelievable,” citing passages which mention one migrant’s story of escaping “a gang of gold diggers” in Tunisia while having “physical characteristics that were considered favorable to the performance of their activity,” but conveniently leaves out the fact that the judge merely quoted the statements made by the plaintiffs, not least because it is not her job to make any judgments on the merits of asylum claims. Her ruling against detention was not made on such grounds, but on those of the Constitution and European norms, which deem illegitimate the provision of the so-called Cutro Decree that coming from a “safe” country – in this case, Tunisia – is in itself a sufficient reason to detain a migrant.

Meloni then claimed Apostolico had made other supposed findings that she never made, accusing the judge of having “unilaterally declared Tunisia to be an unsafe country (a task that is not the responsibility of the judiciary).” Here as well, the reality is completely different: by law, detentions must be based on the individual applicant’s location, not the country from which he or she departed. A great many jurists have written about the fact that the Cutro Decree, hastily cobbled together after yet another tragedy at sea, was full of holes in myriad places, and the adverse rulings from the Court of Catania are only the natural consequence of that obvious fact: a poorly written law will get thrown out in courtrooms.

However, the Prime Minister insisted and kept raising the rhetorical stakes: “We are facing unprecedented migratory pressure due to the instability of vast areas of Africa and the Middle East.” However, she assured that “the Italian government is working every day to deal with this situation and counter mass illegal immigration.” And if a judge is standing in its way, the problem can only lie in the latter’s decisions. The right has been banking on the same logic for (almost exactly) 30 years now: according to them, “the people” supposedly “have decided,” and the government must act only according to the mandate it claims it has been given – regardless of whether there are any forms and limits that must be respected.

Salvini, fighting to keep his pole position in the race to cut the most ruthless figure towards migrants, could not help but add his own two cents – like Meloni, by lashing out against Apostolico directly: “The news about the judge’s political orientation is a grave matter,” said the vice-premier, “but unfortunately not surprising.” As a result, he said the Lega would “demand an accounting” of the judge’s behavior through a question to the Minister of Justice: “We wouldn’t want it to be the case that an ideological choice was made,” explained Lega Senator Erika Stefani in alarmed tones. For the record, Apostolico is not a member of any particular current, she has her own private views like anyone else and has justified her decision on points of law.

The judge replied to the attacks: “I do not wish to enter into the back-and-forth, nor go into the merits of the matter. My decision can be appealed before the Appeals court; I don’t have to stand and defend it. That is not part of my duties. Besides, one should not turn a judicial issue into a personal one.” Beyond the war of words, the Interior Ministry has announced that it will indeed appeal the order issued by the Catania court last week, which will be the real second chapter of the affair.

However, in the meantime, the clash between the right and the judiciary has escalated even further. The outgoing secretary of the Area Democratica per la Giustizia association of judges and prosecutors, Eugenio Albamonte, told Ansa that “there is a very strong involution of the current government with regard to respecting the role of the judiciary.” In retort, Giorgio Mulè from Forza Italia hit back with a great classic from the Berlusconi’s old repertoire: “Albamonte should look in the mirror, and behind him he would see the faces of thousands of honest and angry Italian citizens who have seen their lives being blown up by ill-intentioned and sleazy judicial investigations. Investigations with no respect for privacy, which ruined the lives of innocent people and were certainly unworthy of a democracy.”

It looks like we’re heading back to the times when not a day went by without a clash between the government and the judiciary. And, although Meloni has a very different background from Berlusconi’s, she seems to have assiduously studied the script for that political season. The classics never go out of fashion.

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