In Catania, an incredible Italian trial

This early Saturday morning, the lawyer and senator Giulia Bongiorno climbed the steps of the Catania court with her client, the former Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, accused of kidnapping. A few hours later she left the same court in a wheelchair and thus presented herself at the press conference, on the port of Catania, which followed the hearing, alongside a dressed Salvini, as we see rarely, in a suit and tie. The consequence of a fight between the prosecution and the defense? We thought we were attending a film sequence, an Italian-style comedy. Reality would be less funny than fiction. According to Salvini, during the hearing behind closed doors, a piece of marble would have come loose from a wall to crash into a foot of the lawyer, rescued by the emergency room. A somewhat grotesque scene which amplifies the echo of this political event trial.

Read also: Trials, meetings and selfies: Salvini’s adventures in Sicily

This is not, however, the only curious element of the trial. The government’s decisions with respect to Salvini’s actions changed in a short time. On February 12, 2020, the Senate voted the authorization to try Senator Matteo Salvini, otherwise protected by parliamentary immunity, for kidnapping in the ship case Gregoretti. A year before, on March 20, the same Senate rejected the authorization to prosecute him while he was a minister, accused of aggravated kidnapping in a similar case, that of the ship Diciotti. On the basis of this turnaround, Salvini has been protesting for months that this decision has given rise to “a political trial” by the government.

The previous Berlusconi

“Indecent”: this is how Massimo Cacciari, famous Italian philosopher and former mayor of Venice, qualified the government’s choice to vote for the judgment against Salvini for two different cases: first for the Open Arms case, for which Salvini could be heard in another trial next week, and then for the Gregoretti case. “It is the magistrates who will determine whether the rules of international law have been violated” he explains. He criticizes the attitude of the government: “The hypocrisy of Conte [président du Conseil italien, NDLR] and former allies of the M5S government is indecent because they too approved of the decision. “

Read also: Italy: the bitter return to the polls of Matteo Salvini

Salvini is accused of having abused his powers by depriving of their freedoms the 131 migrants stranded on board the Gregoretti for five days before being disembarked at Augusta. Cacciari does not share any of Matteo Salvini’s political positions, but acknowledges that Salvini did not make this decision alone. This aspect is also one of the elements of defense transcribed in Salvini’s memoir filed with the judges. His line of defense? On board of Gregoretti, two smugglers were arrested after disembarking, the migrants remained on the boat without danger and with the maximum assistance, only the time necessary to agree with the other European countries of their transfer. And all this with the full participation of the Italian government: he underlines the decisive role of the Ministry of Transport in the allocation of a safe port.

You have to go back to 1992 to remember a trial involving a minister. Asked by Point, Cacciari recalls that this is the Tangentopoli trial, where Christian Democrat ministers were on the dock. Former Council President Silvio Berlusconi has also been the subject of numerous trials for tax or corruption transactions, most of which ended without a final conviction, but never as a minister.

Political arena

The October 3 trial was used as a political platform by Salvini. Friday evening, the day before the trial, he was expected at the port of Catania for a major public interview, the umpteenth event planned as part of the days of debates in his support organized by the League. He had previously alternated meetings with citizens in the villages of Sicily with participation in television programs. Any event is broadcast and multiplied by the senator’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Borsellino Square (named after the murdered Italian magistrate, symbol of the fight against the Mafia) has become a major political arena: a stage, three large screens, stands. However, the place is not filled as expected. There are activists and sympathizers from all over Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, but also Liguria, who have come to support Salvini and spend a few days in the sun. The executives, deputies and senators of the League also followed one another during these three days.

The public interview takes place according to the codes of talk shows and “holiday village” events. At the entrance, yellow or blue anti-Covid masks are distributed, the new party colors having replaced the green of the Northern League, surrounded by the logo of the League. Just like huge flags and T-shirts and signs crossed out with the same slogan “Judge me too!” “. Alessandro Morelli, deputy and Milanese friend of Salvini, warms the audience from the stage and gives them directions for the photo that will be posted on social networks: “Higher, higher, the flags, raise the flags, the T-shirts also ! Forza! Whoever does not have a flag raises the signs. “Then he greets a participant at the microphone:” Hi, Sara! And exclaims: “This was only a test! Thank you ! Now our Matteo will arrive. The audience applauds.

Crush Greta Thunberg

Maria Giovanna Maglie, the journalist chosen to interview Salvini, has repeatedly affirmed her support for the leader of the League and declared that she would like to run over Greta Thunberg with her car. Before going on stage, Salvini said he was quiet: “In general, on Friday evening, like all divorced fathers, I spend the evening with my children, at this hour usually I am preparing a chop or i watch cartoons. He adds: “I don’t think it often happens for a normal citizen, well in all respects, to go to court as an accused facing 15 years in prison. “

Read also: The “Alan Kurdi” and his 125 migrants will land in Italy

During the conversation with the journalist, a large Italian flag appears on the screen with the slogan in blue: “First the Italians. A challenge of freedom. “Between one question and the other are broadcast short videos in which we see Matteo Salvini in a rally or in Parliament, while in February he demands quarantine for all those returning from China. These images are accompanied by thunderous music that evokes an action movie. Matteo Salvini underlines his pride in having blocked the disembarkation of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean. “Even the French minister defends the borders of his country, but he is not judged for that”, he affirms.

On the day of the trial, sunny Catania is swarming with people. On the large market in Place Carlo-Alberto, perfumes, anti-Covid masks and vegetables are offered for a few euros by sellers singing about the quality of their products. At the same time, tension is mounting among journalists and politicians who are witnesses or protagonists of the event. Very early on Salvini posted a photo in the company of his right-wing allies Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party, and Antonio Tajani, deputy president of Forza Italia and of the European People’s Party, who showed their support for him. They appear, united for the occasion, on a terrace, smiling under the sun. The “National Youth” group, a young movement of the Brothers of Italy and the National Alliance, extreme right-wing forces, awaits Giorgia Meloni in the city center. They brandish signs in support of Salvini with this slogan: “The defense of borders is sacrosanct. At 300 meters from the court, in Piazza Trento, the demonstration of the network “Never with Salvini” is taking place at the same time during which two flags are burned, one of the League and the other of the Democratic Party.

Support from Marine Le Pen

The preliminary hearing takes place in camera. At its end, the lawyer for one of the civil parties, Daniela Ciancimino, announces the conclusions to journalists. The prosecution again requested, as it had done during the first phase of the procedure, to dismiss the case. At the request of the lawyers of the leader of the League and of the civil parties, Judge Nunzio Sarpietro authorized a postponement of the preliminary hearing in order to hear the President of the Council, the Ministers of the Interior Lamorgese and of Foreign Affairs Di Maio and former ministers Trenta and Toninelli. President Conte’s hearing has been set for November 20 in Catania in the bunker of Bicocca prison. Those of Di Maio and Lamorgese for December 4. Salvini commented: “I am satisfied, I did not act alone. But Conte and the ministers are innocent like me. “

At the end of this tormented morning, Marine Le Pen, who had remained strangely silent until then, showed her support for Matteo Salvini: “All my support and that of the RN for our ally and friend @matteosalvinimi. Taking a political leader to court for having prevented the migratory flood is an absolute disgrace! MLP #iostoconSalvini ”. In Sicily, as elsewhere in Europe, the European populist leaders hope to regain a little audience thanks to the trial of Salvini …

Read also: “Migration flows must not be managed, they must be stopped”

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