Italy: Interior minister links terrorism and activists´"widespread political illegality"

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"subversive association", "psychological participation" and "preventative criminalisation"

The Italian Interior Minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, appeared in parliament on 27 January 2003 to answer questions on the threat of terrorism with a detailed report in which he warned of a growing climate of "widespread political illegality" which must be monitored and combated. The Minister mixed together Islamic terrorist groups, endogenous left-wing armed groups, anarchist insurrectionaries in general, and right-wing groups, as part of a common threat. Thus anarchist insurrectionaries are a "vast armed group" (terrorist organisation) in spite of "a lack of strategic leadership and hierarchical organisation"; although there is "a lack of evidence of interaction between Islamic groups and endogenous subversive organisations" investigators are following this line of inquiry due to contacts between people in prison from Maghreb countries and the far-left; likewise, "widespread political illegality ... does not result in terrorist actions", but it must be monitored and combated because it is "undoubtedly" dangerous.

Most importantly, Pisanu sought to minimise the differences between illegal acts of a demonstrative nature (such as an occupation, "illegal" demonstration, vandalism or the picketing of a printing press that was breaking a strike) and terrorism. He said that although these acts are "demonstrative" they show that "organised elements and groups" have chosen violence "as a means of political struggle" in order to "arouse insecurity and alarm among citizens, intimidate victims, openly challenge the authority of the institutions, ... impose the message that it is possible to infringe the law without being punished". Once again, although Pisanu admitted that it is only speculation, he indicated that a "future interrelation between the milieu of political illegality and the terrorist-subversive milieu cannot be excluded" drawing a comparison with the relationship between Autonomia Operaia and the Red Brigades in the 70´s and 80´s.

Within the field of "widespread political illegality", a number of incidents and the groups responsible are mentioned, including a break-in into the offices of a television station to interrupt a local news programme, blamed on a social centre in Turin (Askatasuna), and a number of initiatives, including a raid on an immigrant detention centre that is under construction in Bologna in January 2002 attributed to the "Disobedients", the occupation of a UK consulate in Venice on 5 October during a demonstration against the likely war in Iraq, attributed to two social centres: "Rivolta" in Marghera (Venice) and "Pedro - Radio Sherwood" in Padua. Thus the participation of individuals from certain groups serves to criminalise an entire group, a specific social centre, or a media outlet (as in the case of Radio Sherwood). Likewise, a demonstration and picket outside a printing centre in Vitulano (Benevento, Campania) on 21 October, because the newspapers printed there were breaking a strike, led to members of the Naples "Laboratorio Occupato Ska" social centre being identified and charged.

The anarchist insurrectionary milieu is described as a "radical evolution" of the wider anarchist movement, with "autonomous" and "subversive" characteristics, based on a loose framework of "affinity groups" attempting to create a situation of "permanent conflict, self-management and attack". This notion of an "organised subversive structure" has repeatedly failed to be proven where the state has tried to attribute terrorist acts to anarchist insurrectionalists. Pisanu laments the fact that, on several occasions, charges brought by prosecuting magistrates have been rejected by judges for preliminary investigations, or failed to succeed during trials.

Recent police and judicial actions, including the arrest of 20 activists for "subversive association" on orders from Cosenza prosecutors on 14/15 November 2002 across southern Italy (see below), and the arrest of 23 activists in relation to incidents during the G8 summit in July 2001 on charges including "psychological participation" in violent acts on orders from Genoa prosecutors on 4 December 2002, indicate the dangers of minister Pisanu´s all-encompassing approach. Members of some groups that have been called into question believe that a "preventative criminalisation" of activists is taking place in the run-up to the anti-war demonstration planned for 15 February 2003, to justify possible excesses.

Source: Speech by Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu in the Italian parliament 27.1.03; Il manifesto 29.1.03.

Update: Italy: Activists freed, but still under investigation

In separate hearings on 22 November and 3 December 2002, judges in Cosenza and Catanzaro (Calabria) ordered the release of the 20 activists arrested on the night of 14/15 November 2002 across southern Italy and who were accused of belonging to a "subversive association" by the Cosenza prosecutors´ office. The first releases were decreed in Cosenza for medical reasons, for four activists, while two others were considered by the judge to have "rejected violence", although they later rejected the claims, saying that they did not renege any of their activities, which were not violent in the first place. A demonstration was held in Cosenza on 23 November 2002 to call for the release of the detainees.

Lawyer Giuliano Pisapia commented that although the release of the activists was welcome, the 42 members of the "Rete del sud ribelle" activist network involved in the inquiry remained under investigation. The nature of the case against included their pre-determined intent to undertake criminal acts in Naples in March, and in Genoa in July 2001, discerned from such evidence as the fact that activists had the telephone numbers of lawyers to call in the case of emergencies.

The head of the Cosenza prosecutors´ office complained in an interview to left-wing daily "Il manifesto" of the isolation and lack of support experienced by his office after the arrests and gave an insight into the prosecution´s mode of operation. When Alfredo Serafini was asked whether he thought that charges of "subversive association" were excessive, he replied: "The charges made are extremely powerful. However, you always start from the fullest possibility to make headway in the investigation: it is always possible to reduce them later". Judges ordering the release of the activists stated that charges of subversive association, political conspiracy and threat against constitutional bodies were unsubstantiated, and that the "Rete del sud ribelle" should not be accused of violent methods despite undertaking some illegal acts, such as the occupation of some employment agencies for temporary work.

Sources: Il manifesto, 19.11.02, 23.11.02, 24.11.02, 26.11.02, 27.11.02, 30.11.02, 13.12.02; Indymedia Italy 16.11.02; Repubblica 15.11.02, 3.12.02, 19.12.02; statement by "rete meridionale del sud ribelle" 3.12.02.

see previous Statewatch coverage, November 2002:
Italy -20 activists arrested for "subversive association"

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