Global Policy Forum

Protests Return to Haunt Italy


By Stefania Milan

Inter Press Service
March 11, 2004

"As mother and as Italian citizen, Genoa and the G8 meeting is still a bleeding wound for me," says Enrica Bartesaghi whose daughter was arrested during the protests of July 2001. "My 21-year-old daughter was at Diaz school," she recalls. "She was beaten by the police, arrested, brought to the hospital and then taken to the Bolzaneto barracks, where she disappeared for two days. There she was threatened and tortured by the police."

Bartesaghi, who is president of the Committee for Truth and Justice for Genoa set up in 2002 by a group of victims, journalists, doctors and union activists is demanding an accurate reconstruction of the protests against the meeting and the crackdown on protesters. The G8 summit was held in Genoa in Italy July 19-21. The G8 comprises the seven richest countries, which are the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada and Japan (the G7) plus Russia. Three difficult days then are being relived now in the courts.

The town centre where the summit took place had been ringed by a 'red line' guarded by about 19,000 police officers. On the second day of the summit, demonstrators tried unsuccessfully to breach this 'red line'. In the violence 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani was shot dead by Mario Placanica, then a 21-year-old doing military service with the Carabinieri (armed police). The following day on Saturday more than 300,000 people joined a peaceful protest organised by the Genoa Social Forum (GSF). 'You G8, we six billion' was the theme slogan.

But the march was broken up and 72 people were arrested. The police "indiscriminately assaulted non-violent protesters, journalists and medical personnel working in a professional capacity and clearly identifiable as such," Amnesty International said in a report then. Early Sunday morning anti-riot police raided Diaz school where the GSF and the media were based. Ninety-three people, many of who were then sleeping were beaten and arrested, eyewitnesses said. About 20 people were seen being carried out on stretchers while they were still inside their sleeping bags. Sixty-two of the detainees required hospital treatment. Officers who took part in the raid said they found two Molotov cocktails and an assortment of "possible weapons". All 93 arrested were charged with association to commit a crime, resisting a public official, and possession of weapons.

The police later admitted that the Molotov cocktails were planted in the school by the law officers. The "possible weapons" included a camping knife and some harmless objects. An array of lawsuits has revived those memories. Three main trials were to follow the demonstrations: over Giuliani's death, against demonstrators for rioting and causing damage in the city, and the third against the police over attacking demonstrators.

The trial over Giuliani's death will never begin. Mario Placanica who fatally shot Carlo Giuliani was acquitted in May last year: a court held that a stone thrown by a demonstrator had diverted the bullet. His lawyer said Placanica had in any case fired in self-defence. "We didn't want a conviction, we want the truth," Carlo Giuliani's father Giuliano Giuliani told IPS. "With the closure of the case, I suspect that someone is trying to keep the truth from us."

In the case against the police, 47 police officers who were in the Bolzaneto barracks where most of demonstrators were taken after the first raids are charged with torturing detainees. On March 3 another 29 policemen who took part in the raid at Diaz school were charged with giving false testimony, defamation, abuse of authority, and causing injuries. It was this lot that were reported to have planted the Molotov cocktails. Among them are the chief of the Italian anti-terrorism police Francesco Gratteri and the chief of the anti-riot police in Rome, Vincenzo Canterini.

But demonstrators are in the dock too. The trial of 26 demonstrators accused of rioting in the city began March 2. They were arrested following attacks on city buildings, banks and shops. Any of them found guilty could spend between eight and 15 years in jail. They have faced several restrictions since December 2002. One of them, Francesco Puglisi has spent more than a year in jail.

The demonstrators are being represented by lawyers from the Genoa Legal Forum which was set up before the G8 meeting to deal with legal consequences of the protests and their aftermath. "The charge of ransacking has only been used before in Italy after cases of bombing during wartime," Laura Tartarini from the Genoa Legal Forum told IPS. "In this case, it has been extended to some of those who had a link with the protests under the principle of moral support. If this is the charge, there are not 26 offenders but 300,000."

The Committee for Truth and Justice for Genoa supported by the Genoa Legal Forum fears that these activists will be made scapegoats. Several civil society groups supporting the committee demonstrated outside the Genoa tribunal early this month. "Genoa is the European capital of culture 2004, but not the capital of civil rights," the committee said in a statement. "In the celebrations there is no reference to what happened in July 2001, and no space to reflect about civil rights in Europe," Bartesaghi said. "We asked the mayor to give an opportunity to make peace with the people who suffered the repression, but he has not replied yet." The committee has asked an ad-hoc parliamentary commission to carry out its own inquiry into the incidents.

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