20 activists arrested for "subversive association"
01 November 2002
On the night of 14 November twenty activists from the Rete meridionale del sud ribelle were arrested on orders from Cosenza giudici per le indagini preliminari (gip, judge for preliminary investigations) Nadia Plastina and Domenico Fiordalisi under articles 270 and 270 bis of the Italian criminal code for constituting a "subversive association". They are accused of political conspiracy by association aimed at disrupting the exercise of government "particularly on occasion of the international summits in Genoa and Naples" by "organising and provoking clashes between numerous demonstrators and the police to make public order unmanageable", and of continuous distribution of subversive propaganda, sometimes using Internet, to "violently subvert the economic order of the State". The arrests affected people from the southern cities of Naples, Cosenza, Taranto, Reggio Calabria and Vibo Valentia, and saw the involvement of the carabinieri from the ROS special operation unit. Eleven people are being detained in Trani high security prison, two women in Latina and seven others have been placed under house arrest. Another 22 people are also formally under investigation.
Article 270 of the criminal code dates back to the fascist regime, and was explicitly aimed by then-justice minister Alfredo Rocco at left-wing movements, punishing: "Anyone who constitutes, organises or directs associations aimed at ... violently subverting the social-economic order that exists in the State" with five to twelve years detention with a three-year sentence applicable for participation in such an organisation. Article 270 bis, in defence of the democratic order, punishes "Anyone who promotes, constitutes or directs organisations to undertaking acts of violence aimed at subversion of the democratic order is punished with seven to fifteen years detention", with four to eight-year sentences envisaged for participation in such groups. In this case, it appears that publishing information ("subversive propaganda") and involvement in demonstrations ("disrupting the exercise of government") during which violence occurred, lead to arrests on the grounds of terrorism. According to Repubblica journalist Giuseppe D´Avanzo, the accusations are based on evidence collected by the carabinieri ROS, including interceptions and surveillance, as well as defiant public statements or information posted on the Internet by members of the network. D´Avanzo claims that the 980-page report by the ROS was rejected by judges in Genoa, Turin and Naples before it was acted upon in Cosenza.
A press release from the Rete del Sud Ribelle describes the arrests as an act of "terrorism against freedom of thought and trade union political action in Italy", arguing that "The Cosenza prosecutor´s office is making a big mistake, the Rete del sud ribelle is not a clandestine organisation, [it is] merely a way of keeping the groups in the south (social centres, Cobas, environmentalist groups and individuals) linked". It claims that Cosenza prosecutors "fear that the many social elements that make up the Rete del Sud Ribelle, may represent a useful socio-political element capable of bringing neo-liberal policies back into discussion". The arrests were followed by demonstrations throughout Italy, with organisers claiming that 30,000 demonstrated in Rome and 15,000 in Naples: other actions took place in Florence, Milan, Perugia, Viareggio, Genoa, Palermo, Pisa, Lecce, Trieste, Vicenza and Latina (outside the prison). Fabio Marcelli of Giuristi Democratici, a network of democratic lawyers, argues that we are in presence of "a dangerous backlash or... a judicial counter-offensive by the most retrograde sectors of the state apparatus... The evidence of this is the association-related nature of the "crimes" alleged using the remains of fascism in the penal code (political conspiracy, subversive propaganda) and the fragility of the prosecution´s case".
The arrests are not isolated, as a number of mem