By Susy Hodges
Under Italian law, ministers have parliamentary immunity for actions taken while they are in office. However, a committee voted last month to strip Salvini of his immunity but left the final decision in the hands of the upper chamber, the Senate. Salvini’s own League party boycotted the vote.
The decision gives magistrates in Sicily the go-ahead to press charges over Salvini’s decision to keep more than 100 migrants blocked aboard the Gregoretti coastguard ship for six days last July. Salvini ignored pleas from human rights groups to let the migrants come ashore, although several of them were allowed off the ship for medical reasons.
Among those allowed to leave was a woman who was 8 months pregnant and her family, who were taken in by the Catholic charity, Sant’Egidio. The other migrants remained stranded on the ship for six days while Salvini demanded other EU countries take them in. Prosecutors opened an investigation into conditions on board the Gregoretti after reports that the migrants only had access to one toilet.
The standoff was eventually resolved when the Catholic Church in Italy and five other EU nations agreed to accept the migrants and they were allowed to disembark.
Salvini has reacted to the Senate vote with defiance, saying he wanted to go to court. The former minister said he wanted to tell the world that his migration policies had saved tens of thousands of lives. Salvini also said he was proud of what he had done and pledged to do it again as soon as he gets back into government.
During his 14 months as Interior Minister, Salvini made tackling migrant boats a priority, barring ports to rescue ships and threatening the charities operating them with fines.
Although Salvini could face a jail sentence of up to 15 years if successfully convicted, the wheels of justice in Italy grind very slowly. Anybody convicted has the right to two appeals which means the whole legal process could take years.