(Update 1: Adds update on witness approval, minor edits)
Palermo, Italy, Oct 23 (EFE).- Italy’s former interior minister Matteo Salvini went on trial Saturday to face charges of kidnapping and abuse of office for refusing to let a rescue vessel disembark 147 migrants and forcing it to remain at sea for days until prosecutors overturned the decision in August 2019.
The far-right leader of the League party, renowned for his anti-immigration policies during his time as interior minister in the former coalition government between 2018-19, attended the opening of the trial at the court in Palermo, Sicily.
During the first day of the trial, which was delayed from its initial start date last month, judge Roberto Murgia approved the witness requests that had been put forward.
These include former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, current interior minister Luciana Lamorgese, ex-foreign minister Luigi di Maio and the former ministers of transport, Danilo Toninelli, and defense, Elisabetta Trenta, feature on the list of witnesses requested by the prosecution.
Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi also wants senior representatives from the Spanish NGO Open Arms, which operates the migrant boat, to take to the witness box.
American actor Richard Gere, who showed his solidarity with Open Arms by visiting the migrants when the vessel was still stranded off the Italian island of Lampedusa in August 2019, will also give testimony.
Open Arms also requested testimony from the ship’s entire crew and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.
The charges against Salvini could carry a prison sentence of 15 years.
Around 100 migrants were forced to spend 19 days at sea when Salvini enforced his harsh policy of closing Italy’s ports to rescue vessels in 2019. Others were evacuated earlier in the ordeal.