Matteo Salvini during an election campaign in Riace | Photo: Archive / ANSA / Marco Costantino
Matteo Salvini during an election campaign in Riace | Photo: Archive / ANSA / Marco Costantino

A Milan court has begun hearing a defamation case against Matteo Salvini. The Italian politician is charged with having damaged the reputation of Carola Rackete, who captained the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship.

In the first hearing in a trial of the leader of Italy's far-right League party, Matteo Salvini, on charges of aggravated defamation against Carola Rackete, the former boat captain, the defense team of the former interior minister said that his statements against the activist had been political and not liable to prosecution. The prosecution rejected this and said that it had instead been a "direct attack on the person".

Salvini is charged with having damaged the reputation of Rackete with Facebook Lives and posts on Twitter in June and July 2019, using such phrases as "that snotty little captain", the "German criminal" and the "rich and spoilt Communist."

The defense team of the former interior minister, with the lawyer Claudia Eccher, asked the judge in the criminal court to shelve the case because the statements were a "political message" expressed while in his role as senator.

The prosecutor, Giancarla Serafini, replied: "They were not phrases that are part of political debate, even of the ministry of that time. They were true attacks on the person, on her dignity, expressions of denigration. It was a direct attack on the person."

"We are in front of not just an ugly phrase; what we are seeing is hate speech created by a man abusing his office," the plaintiff's lawyer, Salvo Tesoriero said. He and his colleague Alessandro Gamberini are defending the German activist in the case.

The hearing was adjoined to June 23.

Charges and defense

Salvini's defense team has raised two preliminary issues on which the judge will rule on June 23: the request for a "ruling that the case is on charges that cannot be prosecuted," which would result in the immediate shelving of the case, and otherwise a ruling that the case cannot go forward because authorisation was not requested from the Senate.

They then made reference to an intervention at the Senate on July 11, 2019, when the League leader was a minister and in which he had given an accounting of his immigration policies, with which he had "sharply reduced (migrant boat) departures and (migrant) deaths."

According to his defense team, the statements made about Rackete - who was arrested for a few hours for having violated the Italian authorities' orders - were part of the context of expressing his thoughts on political action.

Rackete had on June 29, 2019, sailed the Sea-Watch 3 into the Lampedusa port to disembark 53 migrants who had been onboard the ship for more than two weeks.

The "language used by the League and new parties like the Five Star Movement," Eccher said, "is characterised by a change in linguistic paradigm, by clear and direct language."

The prosecutor responded by saying that the judges could decide whether such words as "delinquent" and "German tick" were part of normal political language for a minister.

He added that even in that period Rackete's arrest was not signed by the preliminary investigation judge, who noted that the young woman's actions were "the carrying out of her duty."

Following the posts by Salvini (criminal solicitation charges against him were shelved on the prosecutor's request), the prosecutor noted, "very violent threats and terrible words were used" against the woman, "making it possible to assume that there may be risks" to the woman resulting.


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