ROME (Reuters) - The German captain of a migrant rescue ship will sue Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for defamation, her lawyer said on Friday, intensifying the battle of wills between the charity worker and the far-right leader.
Carola Rackete, 31, was freed from house arrest on Tuesday after a judge dismissed accusations she had endangered the lives of Italian servicemen by ignoring military orders and bringing a boatload of migrants to the port of Lampedusa.
Salvini has repeatedly denounced Rackete, calling her a “pirate” and an “outlaw”, and promising to expel her from Italy.
Rackete’s lawyer Alessandro Gamberini said a lawsuit had been drawn up. “We have already prepared the case against minister Salvini,” he told Radio Cusano Campus, accusing the minister of stirring up hatred.
Rackete, who sports long, distinctive dreadlocks, has been targeted by Internet trolls, with threats of rape and death thrown her way on social media. She is currently in hiding.
“A defamation case is a way of sending a signal. When people get hit in the wallet they understand that they cannot insult people gratuitously,” Gamberini said, referring to the fines that might be inflicted on Salvini if he loses the case.
Salvini, who heads the far-right League party and also serves as deputy prime minister in the coalition government, appeared to relish the prospect of a court encounter.
“She breaks laws and attacks Italian military ships, and then sues me. Mobsters don’t frighten me, let alone a rich and spoiled German communist!” he wrote on Twitter.
Rackete herself still faces possible charges of aiding illegal immigration and disregarding public officials and will be questioned in Sicily by magistrates next week. Her Sea-Watch 3 boat has been impounded as the investigation continues.
Since taking office a year ago, Salvini has introduced a battery of anti-migrant measures, leading to a sharp decline in new arrivals also in the number of charity ships operating off the coast of Libya in search of flimsy migrant boats.
Salvini said on Friday that another charity ship, the German-flagged Alan Kurdi, had picked up 65 people near Libya, and warned it not to try to come to Italy.
In an open letter to his German counterpart Horst Seehofe, Salvini said it was vital for Berlin to intercede, adding that Italy would not let the Alan Kurdi dock under any circumstances.
“Any eventual deterioration of the situation on board can therefore only be the exclusive responsibility of the flag-state (of the boat) and the commander and crew of the Alan Kurdi,” he wrote. There was no immediate response from Seehofe.
Earlier on Friday, Malta said it would take in 54 migrants rescued by an Italian charity boat off Libya this week, as part of a migrant swap with Rome.
The two countries have repeatedly clashed over who should receive migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, but both have also criticized their European Union partners for failing to take in more of the newcomers.
“Our two countries have been suffering the indifference and failings of the European Union for years,” Salvini said.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gavin Jones