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G8 appeals: longer prison terms for demonstrators, more officers convicted

On 5 March 2010, Genoa appeal court found that 44 people including police officers, carabinieri officials, prison officers and medical staff deployed in the make-shift detention facility in Bolzaneto army barracks during the G8 summit in July 2001 in Genoa were guilty of abuses suffered by demonstrators arrested in the streets and subsequently held on the premises, overturning the acquittal of 29 of them in the first trial.

252 people from several countries passed through Bolzaneto barracks, 197 of them arrested and 55 held temporarily, many of whom testified willingly in the first trial, reporting an array of violent, demeaning and insulting practices to which they were subjected (see Statewatch vol. 18 no. 4). 15 officers were convicted in the first trial, and the highest sentences passed were of five years (one), three years and two months (one) and two years and four months (two), and the ten sentences for convictions entailing custodial sentences of a year or less were suspended.

The trial ascertained that acts falling within the "degrading and inhuman treatment" category was meted out to the demonstrators, but the absence of the criminal offence of torture in the Italian penal code in spite of a 20-year-old international commitment by Italy to introduce it as a signatory of the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocols resulted in lower sentences and the applicability of the statute of limitations. Hence, the offences for which they were convicted included "misuse of office", "misuse of authority" and "private violence". The guilty verdicts on appeal will not result in custodial sentences being executed as a result of the proceedings running beyond the statute of limitations, because the events in questions occurred nearly nine years ago.

Thus, there were seven effective convictions, with sentences suspended: the longest (three years and two months) for police assistant chief MLP for spreading a detainee's fingers, damaging their ligaments; two years and two months for a doctor, SS; and one year for two prison police officers, MM and MCS, and for three police officers, MA, PU and MT. The offences included entering false information in official records -an offence that is not subject to the statute of limitations-, and in three cases, a police officer, a prison guard and a doctor chose not to avail themselves of the statute of limitations, confiding that their first instance acquittals would have been upheld. While those found guilty on appeal after their earlier acquittal complained that they were placed "in the same cauldron without taking individual positions into account, that were very different and identifiable", and were convicted collectively for other people's behaviour, the plaintiffs' lawyers and human rights organisations including Amnesty International were pleased that "justice was done" and asked for the culprits to be suspended from their duties, while they lamented Italy's failure to introduce the criminal offence of torture. AI also warned that "systemic failures which contributed to the violations in Bolzaneto have not been addressed by the Italian authorities".

On 8 October 2009, the Genoa appeal court had also ruled on the street violence by demonstrators, issuing a sentence that was significant because it overturned a number of guilty verdicts, others were neutralised by the statute of limitations, and the number of people convicted fell from 24 to 10, while it increased the length of the prison terms that they are set to face. In practice, those responsible for vandalism and violence against offices, shops and property were found guilty of the very serious charge of "destruction and looting", whereas some demonstrators involved in clashes in the streets with the police and carabinieri after an unlawful charge by a unit of the latter force in the context of the demonstrations were acquitted. Charges of destruction and looting, intended for revolts or insurrections and entailing extremely long prison sentences, have only started being used for violence at political demonstrations in recent times.

The 10 demonstrators whose convictions on these charges were confirmed were also given longer custodial sentences to serve: FP, from 10 years and six months to 15 years; VV, from 10 years and six months to 13 years; MC, from 11 years to 12 years and three months; AF, from nine to 10 years; CA, from seven years and six months to eight years; LF, from 10 years to 10 years and nine months; AV, from seven years and eight months to eight years; CC, from seven years and 10 months to eight years; DU, from six years and six months to seven years; and IM, from six years to six years and six months. Haidi Giuliani, the mother of Carlo, the youth killed in the clashes on the streets in Genoa in 2001, commented that "this is not a sentence, it is revenge".

Thus, violence by protestors against objects and establishments has incurred lengthy custodial sentences, responsibility for violence in street clashes has been mitigated by police forces' responsibility in provoking them through undue aggression, and responsibility for physical violence and psychological abuse against demonstrators who were in custody has been attributed to a larger number of those operating in Bolzaneto than in the first trial, albeit with lower custodial sentences that will not be executed. The statute of limitations has intervened to effectively strike off many of the convictions, for both officers and demonstrators, although more so in the case of the former due to the charges of destruction and looting (devastazione e saccheggio). The appeal ruling concerning events in Bolzaneto will also result in responsibility for paying damages to the victims of abuses by the interior, justice and defence ministries.

Sources:

Appeal court judgment (full-text) (14MP, link)

Repubblica, 5.3.2010; Corriere della Sera, 5.3.2010; Il Megafono Quotidiano, 5.3.2010; ANSA 9.10.2009; Amnesty International, 8.3.2010. Ongoing coverage from Osservatorio sulla repressione

Previous Statewatch coverage:
Italy: Making sense of the G8 trials and aftermath, Statewatch, vol. 18 no. 4, 2008.


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