Richard Gere has agreed to testify against Italy’s far-right former interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is standing trial for refusing to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship dock in an Italian port in 2019.
Prosecutors in Sicily have accused Salvini of dereliction of duty and kidnapping for blocking the NGO vessel Open Arms from docking in August 2019 as part of his closed-ports policy. Onboard were 147 people rescued in the Mediterranean. During the standoff, as the ship was anchored off the island of Lampedusa, some people threw themselves overboard in desperation.
When Gere, who at the time was on holiday with his family in Tuscany, heard about the stranded ship, he spoke to the NGO and travelled to Sicily to join the charity and to help deliver food and supplies to the people onboard.
The 72-year-old actor later attended a conference in Lampedusa, and appeared in a video message urging people to support the charity and the people it rescued.
“All hands onboard would have been lost,” Gere said in the video.
“I already came to Lampedusa, two or three years ago, to visit the migrant hotspot, so I knew the situation first-hand,” he said. “They are people who have lived horrible stories. They have suffered a lot. They call them migrants, but they are refugees who need help.”
After 19 days, all of the migrants and refugees were allowed to disembark in Lampedusa. Salvini said he had only been doing his job by refusing entry to the ship.
“I’m going on trial for having defended my country?” he said. “I’ll go with my head held high, also in your name,” he previously told the media.
Last week, lawyers representing Open Arms filed a list of witnesses ready to testify against Salvini, including Gere. When contacted by the Guardian, Open Arms confirmed that Gere was willing to testify, should a judge allow it. The court’s decision is expected on 23 October.
“If someone wants to turn the trial into a show and wants to see Richard Gere, let him go to the cinema, not to a court,” Salvini told the press. “I know him as an actor, but I don’t understand what kind of lessons he wants to give me,” he added, promising to ask for an autograph for his mother.
If convicted, Salvini could face up to 15 years in prison.