Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini stands trial in migrant rescue case

He is accused of illegally blocking 147 rescued migrants from disembarking rescue ship

Italy's former interior minister and far-right leader Matteo Salvini went on trial on Saturday accused of illegally blocking 147 rescued migrants from disembarking from a rescue ship.

Mr Salvini attended the opening hearing in Sicily's Palermo.

He is charged with kidnapping and abuse of office for using his position as interior minister to detain the 147 migrants at sea in August 2019.

Mr Salvini, 48, said the decision was not his alone, but agreed by the government, including then-prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

Prosecutors have asked that the witness list include Mr Conte, as well as Italy's Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

On Saturday, Judge Roberto Murgia was expected to decide on the admissability of witness lists sought by both sides.

Outside the courtroom, the founder and director of the Spanish charity Open Arms that operated the rescue ship 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," Oscar Camps said.

The beginning of the trial came as 406 migrants rescued in various operations off the coast of Libya by the German charity ship Sea Watch 3 arrived at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo to be disembarked.

In the 2019 Open Arms case, migrants were finally allowed to leave the vessel after six days, following an order by the prosecutor's office.

A subsequent onboard inspection revealed serious overcrowding and dire sanitary conditions.

Mr Salvini denies the charge and says he was protecting the country with his "closed ports" policy that aimed to stop people attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Italy.

Italy's Senate voted last year to strip Mr Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for the trial.

When the incident took place, Mr Salvini was part of a coalition government and held the positions of interior minister and deputy prime minister.

Updated: October 23rd 2021, 12:08 PM