Richard Gere has agreed to testify against Italy’s far-right former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is on trial for refusing to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in an Italian port in 2019.
The public prosecutor in Sicily has accused Salvini of breach of duty and kidnapping for blocking the docking of the NGO ship Open Arms in August 2019 as part of his policy of closed ports. On board were 147 people who were rescued in the Mediterranean. During the stalemate when the ship anchored off the island of Lampedusa, some people threw themselves desperately overboard.
When Gere, who was vacationing with his family in Tuscany at the time, heard about the stranded ship, he spoke to the NGO and traveled to Sicily to join the charity and provide the people on board with food and relief supplies.
The 72-year-old actor later attended a conference in Lampedusa and appeared in a video message calling on people to support the charity and the people it saved.
“All hands on board would have been lost,” said Gere in the video.
“I came to Lampedusa two or three years ago to visit the migrant hotspot, so I knew the situation firsthand,” he said. “They are people who have seen terrible stories. You have suffered a lot. They call them migrants, but they are refugees who need help. “
After 19 days, all migrants and refugees in Lampedusa were allowed to disembark. Salvini said he only did his job by refusing entry to the ship.
“I’m going to be tried for defending my country?” he said. “I will go with my head held high, also on your behalf,” he previously told the media.
Last week, Open Arms lawyers filed a list of witnesses willing to testify against Salvini, including Gere. When contacted by the Guardian, Open Arms confirmed that Gere was ready to testify should a judge allow it. The court’s decision is expected on October 23.
“If someone wants to turn the trial into a show and wants to see Richard Gere, they should go to the cinema, not a court,” Salvini told the press. “I know him as an actor, but I don’t understand what lessons he wants to give me,” he added and promised to ask for an autograph for his mother.
Salvini faces up to 15 years imprisonment if convicted.