Former interior minister Matteo Salvini in Rome on August 28, 2019 | REUTERS/Ciro de Luca
Former interior minister Matteo Salvini in Rome on August 28, 2019 | REUTERS/Ciro de Luca

The Italian Senate has revoked former interior minister Matteo Salvini's immunity, thereby paving the way for another trial over his harsh migrant policy. A conviction might spell the end of the former interior minister's political career.

Italy's Senate on Thursday voted to strip far-right League leader Matteo Salvini of his parliamentary immunity. This move paves the way for Salvini to face trial for a second time over allegedly detaining migrants at sea illegally.

In case Salvini is convicted, he faces up to 15 years in jail and possibly the end of his political career.

The Senate -- part of the Italian Parliament, or the legislative part of the government -- voted 149 to 141 to strip Salvini of his immunity, with one abstention. Back in May, a Senate immunity panel in Italy initially rejected a request to send Salvini to trial.

Abuse of power

Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Palermo accuse Salvini, the head of the anti-immigrant League ("Lega" in Italian) party, of having abused his powers in August 2019 when he was still interior minister.

Back then, Salvini used his power to prevent more than 80 migrants from disembarking from the Open Arms charity ship, which had rescued the migrants in the Mediterranean. The ship was stranded off Lampedusa for almost three weeks and received permission to land only after prosecutors in Agrigento ordered the disembarkation of the migrants. 

Ministers cannot be tried for actions taken while in office unless their parliamentary immunity is revoked by the Senate. Salvini, a senator, argues that the decision to detain the migrants on the ship was reached jointly with the then-government.

'I will do it again'

"I am proud to have defended Italy. I would do it again and I will do it again, also because just this July the arrivals are six times those seen in the same period a year ago, with the League party in government," Salvini told the Senate after the vote.

In a separate but similar trial, Salvini is accused of blocking 116 migrants from disembarking from the Italian "Gregoretti" coast guard boat in July 2019. In this case, the preliminary hearing has been postponed three times due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now scheduled to take place in Sicily on October 3.

Open Arms reacts

In a statement, Proactiva Open Arms, the NGO that operates the Open Arms rescue ship, said it hopes the Senate's decision gives "a definitive and unequivocal signal that the democratic institutions of every liberal country exist to protect the principles on which they are based," news agency AFP cited.

"These are the political choices that make the difference between a country whose foundation is respect for human rights and life and a country that chooses to give up the best part of itself," the group wrote.

The organization's tweet about the Senate's decision was widely shared on social media.

League losing popularity

A Demopolis poll this week found that the far-right League party has dropped more than 11 percentage points in a year, from holding 37% of voting intentions to 25.4% today.

Yet at present, the League is still the most popular party in Italy and its leader expects to do well at the next elections.

Salvini is currently in opposition but is determined to become prime minister. A conviction, however, would throw a serious spanner in the works.

With material from AFP, ANSA

 

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