Italy's senate votes to lift Matteo Salvini's immunity from prosecution

The Italian senate has voted to lift Matteo Salvini’s immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for possible charges against the far-right former interior minister for refusing to allow 164 migrants to get off a ship in Sicily.

The case, from last August, is the third involving a rescue ship standoff in which Italian prosecutors have sought kidnapping charges against Salvini.

During his 14 months as interior minister, he repeatedly denied ships carrying rescued migrants access to ports. The policy resulted in numerous standoffs, leaving migrants stuck at sea for many weeks before European countries could identify a willing port or courts intervened.

In the current case, Salvini refused access to the aid ship Open Arms, which remained at sea for three weeks until it was finally allowed to enter a port on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

In February the senate cleared Salvini to face possible charges for refusing a landing berth a year ago to an Italian coastguard vessel that had picked up 141 migrants rescued by two other boats. The Gregoretti was stuck at sea for days until a judge approved its landing in Augusta, Sicily.

In both the Gregoretti and the Open Arms cases, Salvini said he wants to face charges to clear his name.

“Thank you to all of those who will send me to trial because you are giving me a big gift,” he said before Thursday’s vote. “In that courtroom, I will – differently from others – I will go with my head held high and my back straight. Thank you.”

In another case that went to the senate while he was still serving as the interior minister, Salvini’s party voted not to lift his immunity, protecting him from prosecution for not allowing 190 migrants off another coastguard ship in August 2018.

The Diciotti was stuck at sea for five days, then sat in port for another five before the migrants were allowed to disembark.