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Labour figures unite in support of Italian MEP Cécile Kyenge | World news | The Guardian

Minister faces trial for calling League party racist after being compared to an orangutan

Senior Labour politicians have spoken out in support of Cécile Kyenge, the Italian MEP who is being sued for defamation for calling Italy’s ruling League party racist, after one of its members compared her to an orangutan.

Kyenge, who was Italy’s first black cabinet minister, is facing trial over comments she made in 2014 against the League, the far-right party that is part of Italy’s coalition government.

Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, decided to sue Kyenge, after she called the League racist because one of its members, then party secretary for the Emilia-Romagna region, published a picture on social media depicting her as an orangutan.

In an open letter to the Guardian, nearly 40 black MPs and community leaders expressed concern that an Italian court had allowed the League to open a case of defamation against her.

“The image on social media is one of many incidents and intimidations by the League’s politicians and supporters that Cécile has recently faced,” states the letter, which has been signed by prominent Labour frontbenchers, including the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, who has also faced sustained misogynistic and racist abuse.

“We fully support Cécile and stand with her decision … to fight against racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.”

Other signatories include Labour’s shadow treasury minister, Clive Lewis, the prominent backbenchers David Lammy and Chuka Umunna, as well as the director of Operation Black Vote, Simon Woolley. Most signatories are British but politicians from Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Poland have also lent support.

The letter describes Kyenge’s treatment as symptomatic of a wider problem across Europe, following the rise of “populist, far-right parties in government who are pushing their nationalist agenda and spreading fear and hate against minorities”.

It refers to a recent EU foreign ministers’ meeting, where Matteo Salvini, the League leader and Italy’s deputy prime minister, compared African immigrants to slaves.

Kyenge, who moved to Italy in 1983 from the Democratic Republic of Congo to study medicine, said she has repeatedly called on the League to condemn racism. In an interview with the Guardian in May, she spoke of her deep concerns when the far-right party was elected. “It is very difficult for me to see that a party that accepts it is racist is going to manage law, which is supposed to protect all the community.”

During her time as minister for integration in 2013-14 Kyenge faced an onslaught of racist and misogynist abuse. A local councillor for the League called for her to be raped, while one of the party’s MEPs said she would impose “tribal conditions” on Italy.

When the defamation case was announced last month, Kyenge listed on Facebook examples of headlines generated by the League over the years, including one in 2009 when Salvini called for racial segregation on Milan’s public transport system. “Salvini has summoned me to court because I said the League is racist,” she wrote. “Judge for yourself.”

Sorgente: Labour figures unite in support of Italian MEP Cécile Kyenge | World news | The Guardian

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