The Italian Senate voted on Wednesday to lift the legal immunity that Matteo Salvini is granted as a member of the chamber over his role in restricting migrants from disembarking to an Italian port in July last year.
In the court process that could follow, the federal secretary of Lega Nord faces up to 15 years in prison and an eight-year ban on political activity.
“I am proud of what I did,” Salvini said before the senate session, adding that he was ready to go to prison to defend his country.
“Our constitution clearly states that homeland protection is Italian citizens’ sacred duty,” Salvini continued, saying that he believes in the impartiality of justice.
Before the debate in the senate began, Salvini also took to Facebook to say he had his “head held high, with the calm conscience of those who have defended their land and people”.
“’If a man is not ready to fight for his ideas, either his ideas are worthless, or he is’,” Salvini wrote, quoting Ezra Pound, a 20th-century American poet.
After taking office as Minister of the Interior in June 2018, Salvini enforced a strict anti-immigration policy, which many Italians welcomed because their country was facing a mass migration wave from Africa.
But by closing the ports, Salvini, who had been interior minister until September, was pressured by the EU for keeping migrants waiting for weeks on ships at sea. Salvini usually allowed only a few migrants suffering from health issues to disembark sooner.
The then-interior minister allowed all the passengers to disembark only after the EU countries promised to take the migrants from Italy. A similar practice is followed by Malta, which, like Salvini, has been trying to get the EU into a systemic solution for almost two years.
The senate’s decision to lift Salvini’s immunity concerns a case from last July which a court in Catania, Sicily, is dealing with.
At that time, Salvini, as interior minister, refused to allow 131 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean to disembark at a local port.
Except for a dozen of them, including a pregnant woman and children, everyone had to wait in the port aboard the Gregoretti coast guard vessel before several EU countries promised to take the migrants from Italy.
According to AFP, Salvini’s lawyers want to argue that port closures were not only Salvini’s individual decision, but other members of the then government were also involved.
Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement coalition were in the government last year before their union broke down due to Salvini’s plans for early elections.
The Lega chairman wanted to use his growing election popularity to pursue a new election, however, the elections were not held because the Five Star Movement formed a coalition with the then opposition Democratic Party. The new government is no longer closing ports for migrants.
Salvini faces charges of not allowing the immediate disembarkation of migrants in more cases.
This month, for example, the Senate is to vote on lifting his immunity in the case of the Spanish NGO Open Arms’ vessel. Last August, Salvini allowed a hundred migrants to disembark in Italy only after almost three weeks when ordered by the Sicilian prosecutor’s office.