Italy judge weighs Salvini trial for 2019 migrant standoff

ROME — A judge in Sicily on Saturday began weighing whether to put former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on trial for having refused to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship dock in an Italian port in 2019, keeping the people at sea for days.

Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, was on hand for the preliminary hearing in the bunker courtroom of the Palermo tribunal. He tweeted that he was certain he did the right thing under Italian law, “defending the security and dignity of Italy” by refusing entry to the Open Arms rescue ship.

The judge for the preliminary hearing, Lorenzo Iannelli, is deciding whether to put Salvini on trial or archive the case.

Palermo prosecutors have accused Salvini of kidnapping, for having kept the migrants at sea off the coast of Lampedusa for days in August 2019. During the standoff, some of the migrants threw themselves overboard in desperation as the captain pleaded for a safe, close port. Eventually after a 19-day ordeal, the remaining 83 migrants on board were allowed to disembark in Lampedusa.

Salvini had maintained a hard line on migration as interior minister during the first government of Premier Giuseppe Conte, from 2018-2019. While demanding European Union nations do more to take in migrants arriving in Italy, Salvini argued that humanitarian rescue ships were only encouraging Libyan-based traffickers and that his policy actually saved lives by discouraging the risky trips across the Mediterranean.

Salvini is also under investigation for another, similar migrant standoff involving the Italian coast guard ship Gregoretti that Salvini refused to let dock in the summer of 2019.

The prosecutor in that case, Catania, Sicily Prosecutor Andrea Bonomo, recommended last week that Salvini not be put on trial, arguing that he was carrying out government policy when he kept the 116 migrants at sea for five days.

Follow AP’s global migration coverage at