Italian MEP Cecile Kyenge has been compared to an orangutan by the country’s far-right politicians of the League party. Now, the former integration minister, is being forced to stand up against them – in court.

The League is taking Kyenge to court for defamation. “It’s paradoxical,” said Kyenge, who was assigned a bodyguard as part of a protection programme in response to racist attacks and death threats.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, the case comes amid a broader uptick in xenophobic sentiment and a rise in attacks on foreign-born citizens since the country’s general election in March.

“I have waived my diplomatic immunity,” said Kyenge, who faces a hefty fine if found guilty. “I’m here not for Cecile Kyenge, but for everyone. I’m here for people who can’t defend themselves. I’m here to start saying there are some things that shouldn’t happen.”

According to DW, Italy’s co-ruling League party has long held an anti-establishment stance. But until recently the enemy was Rome, not Brussels, and jibes about identity were targeted at southern Italians, not foreigners.

Under current leader Matteo Salvini, the League has transformed from a party of regional populism to one of right-wing nationalism – with the European Union and immigrants squarely in its crosshairs. Last month, Salvini likened African migrants to “slaves”.

The League won 17.4% of the vote in March, finishing third behind the Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party. It has risen to become the dominant force in Italian politics since entering a coalition government with Five Star.

Opinion polls in September put its support at 32%, slightly ahead of Five Star’s 30%.