Joseph Muscat expected to testify in Salvini trial over 2019 blocking of migrants

Muscat will join former Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte and American actor Richard Gere as witnesses to the trial

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat features on the witness list of a criminal trial in Italy against Matteo Salvini, according to Italian media reports.

The trial centres around a 2019 incident when Salvini, leader of the far-right League party and a former interior minister, failed to allow a Spanish Open Arms rescue ship carrying 147 rescued migrants to dock in Italian territory.

For nearly three weeks, the migrants were unable to disembark from the ship. Some threw themselves overboard in desperation while the captain pleaded for a safe port to disembark at.

In connection to this, Salvini is being charged with kidnapping and abuse of office.

Muscat is included in the witness list for the trial, together with the former Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte and American actor Richard Gere.

It is unclear when Muscat will testify before the Italian court,  but his testimony might not prove fruitful for the defence or prosecution as he is protected by diplomatic immunity, and so cannot be forced to testify under Italian law.

The trial opened in Palermo, Sicily over the weekend, with Salvini present on the opening day.

 Salvini stood by his actions in 2019, insisting that he did his duty by refusing to let the ship disembark. “Defending borders is the duty of any minister. Going to trial just because I did my duty is surreal,” he told Adnkronos, an Italian news agency.

Salvini’s lawyer argued to the same agency that the Open Arms ship arbitrarily chose to arrive in Lampedusa when it could have easily disembarked in Malta.

“The crime is when a victim is forced to stay in one place. In this case, the ship had the possibility of going to Spain, Malta, Tunisia, everywhere […] the conditions for kidnapping are lacking,” the lawyer said, as quoted in Palermo Today.

The trial continues on 17 December.