01 January 2016
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In early January a Greek court will decide whether or not to extradite to Italy five students who face charges including "destruction and looting" in relation to demonstrations against the Milan Expo in May 2015. It is believed to be the first time that European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) have been used to try to extradite protesters.
Melee in Milan
The five Greek students are being charged with aggravated resistance and the use of improvised weapons (bottles, rocks and Molotov cocktails); travisamento (concealing one's face, for example with scarves or balaclavas); and destruction (devastazione) and looting.
The Free 5 group, which is supporting the students, hopes that the judges in Athens will refuse the extradition orders as the charges in Italy carry far heavier penalties than the equivalent acts in Greece. Free 5 told Statewatch in an email that they will also organise "a bit rally outside of the courts" on the days of the hearings - 7, 8 and 11 January - and that "many unions and organisations [will] testify politically against the extradition of the students."
The charges relate to demonstrations against the Milan Expo on 1 May 2015, which became unruly, as reported by The Guardian:
"Thick clouds of smoke from burning cars filled parts of central Milan, where groups of protesters, their faces masked against the fumes, threw stones and faced off against lines of police in riot gear.
"Water cannons were used to put out blazes, including one at a bank branch where the wall had been spray-painted with the words: 'You've skinned us, today you pay.'"
The article noted:
"The protesters have been angered by Expo's reliance on volunteer workers, the involvement of corporations like McDonald's and Coca-Cola and a perception that much of the public money ploughed into the project has been lost to corruption."
The charge of devastazione is particularly serious, with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. It can be applied where repeated instances of criminal damage take place during a single period of time and where they are considered a problem affecting public order.
It was initially introduced into the Italian legal system in 1930, during the Fascist dictatorship, and disappeared from the legal landscape following World War II until it was revived in the late 1990s as part of the state's response to the anti-globalisation movement. For example, following the events in Genoa in 2001, five people were sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison on charges of devastazione.
The Free 5 group were initially detained by the Italian police whilst outside a squat in Milan on 2 May, but were released without charge after having had their fingerprints, photographs and DNA taken.
However, on 12 November they were arrested in northern Athens by Greek police officers, on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant approved by a court in Milan. A text released by the students says: "According to the warrant, we were 'seen' taking part in the riots".
According to the 'Free 5' support campaign, they are due to appear before the Athens Court of Appeals on 7, 8 and 11 January to "resolve the issue of the extradition… to Italy."
The European Arrest Warrant
The European Arrest Warrant was introduced swiftly following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It "streamlined" the extradition of individuals from one EU Member State to another, replacing previous procedures which were based on a mish-mash of different legal bases.
Article 2 of the law establishing the EAW says:
"A European arrest warrant may be issued for acts punishable by the law of the issuing Member State by a custodial sentence or a detention order for a maximum period of at least 12 months or, where a sentence has been passed or a detention order has been made, for sentences of at least four months."
The system introduced by the EAW has long-faced criticism. Poland, in particular, has been accused of misusing the system, as The Guardian reported in 2008:
"In one case, according to [Detective Sergeant Gary] Flood, a carpenter who fitted wardrobe doors and then removed them when the client refused to pay him, was subject to an extradition request by Poland so that they could try him for theft. In another case, the Polish authorities requested the extradition of a suspect for theft of a dessert. 'The European arrest warrant contained a list of the ingredients,' Flood said.
"Although Poland is not the only culprit - a Lithuanian was extradited last year on a charge of 'piglet-rustling' - it has made the most requests by far."
Agencies in Milan: 'Violence overshadows start of Milan Expo as police and protesters clash', The Guardian, 1 May 2015
Afua Hirsch, 'Door thief, piglet rustler, pudding snatcher: British courts despair at extradition requests', The Guardian, 20 October 2008,
'#NoExpo: cosa rischiano i 5 studenti greci', atenecalling.org, 1 December 2015,
European Arrest Warrant
Italy, Genoa G8 appeals: longer prison terms for demonstrators, more officers
Italy: Lengthy sentences for Milan antifascist protestors
Italy: The never ending emergency, by Italo di Sabato (Osservatorio sulla Repressione),
Public order and demonstrations in Italy: heavy-handed policing, militarisation
Greece/Italy: EAW for petty drugs offence
Spain/UK: Extradited suspect complains of treatment in Spain
UK: Press notice: Basque activists appeal against extradition to Spain
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