Anti-G8 riots 'mastermind' back in Italy

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The Independent Online

For Mark Covell, 38, it is not a pleasure trip. He was in court on Friday as the much-delayed trial of the police who ferociously beat him and 61 other activists finally got under way; eyeball to eyeball with the colleagues and commanders of the men who smashed his ribs, knocked out his teeth, punctured his lungs and indeed, according to the state prosecutor, tried to kill him.

"ItÕs a beautiful country," he told the Independent on Sunday, "but I canÕt relax when IÕm here. I canÕt forget what they did to me and the others. IÕm reminded of it every time I see a policeman or a Carabinieri. And in court, when they make eye contact, they make a throat-slitting gesture, and itÕs obvious they want revenge. ItÕs frightening."

Mr Covell, it should be pointed out, was no "mastermind" of anything at GenoaÕs ill-fated G8 summit. That was the invention of the Daily Mail journalist who blagged her way to his hospital bedside by claiming to be from the British Embassy - an intrusion into his privacy for which the paper has settled out of court.

Slight but wiry, and with a cowl of greying wavy hair, Mr Covell, nickname "Sky", is a pacifist and environmentalist with a techie streak. He got interested in the internet in its infancy in the mid-1990s, and in 2000 joined IndyMedia, the network of volunteer journalists who have pioneered internet coverage of protest campaigns around the world.

"I was in Prague for 16 days in 2000," he says, "covering the G8 protests as a cameraman on the streets. After that I became a writer for IndyMediaÕs website and built sites and servers for them."

It was at Prague that he first encountered the violent anarchists of ItalyÕs Black Block, the group that caused bloody mayhem in Genoa, and it was hate at first sight.

"IÕm a pacifist, I donÕt agree with their politics, for me they are a terrorist organisation," he says. So it is ironical that it was to avenge Black BlockÕs violence that Mr Covell was nearly done to death on a Genoa street.

It was the night of Saturday 21 July 2001. Mr Covell had not slept "for about 100 hours", bashing away at the keyboard, sending off accounts and video of the clashes in Genoa as they were streamed in by 400 IndyMedia volunteers with cameras out on the streets. "By seven oÕclock on Saturday all the demonstrations had finished," he remembers. "I finished work at nine and went for a pizza, and then I came back and printed off some web pages."

After that he strolled round to the school next door, which was the demonstratorsÕ dormitory. "It was ten to midnight," he says, "and most people had bedded down. But then an Italian guy ran in and said there was a raid.

"I ran out of the school, I wanted to get to my computer at the other school over the road so I could send out the news. But a line of riot police came out of the darkness and a guy in front wearing a cap pointed at me and a column of about eight police peeled off and came at me. I yelled Ôpress, journalistÕ but they ignored my ID and whacked me on the shoulder and pushed me against a wall.

"One of them smashed my kneecaps, which put me on the floor. I couldnÕt stand up. Then a cop kicked me, and other officers standing around started beating me on the ground. One of them got his boot under me, and booted me into the middle of the road. Eight of my ribs were broken, each in several places, and my lungs were shredded. Everything on my left side was pulverised.

"One sympathetic policeman checked my pulse and dragged me back to where I had been before. I could hear screaming coming out of the school, I had a lot of blood in my throat, I couldnÕt breathe, I really thought I was going to die. Then it got worse!

"Another cop came out of somewhere, bent over me and whacked me on the back of the head with his baton. Another cop kicked my jaw at the same time and 10 teeth came out. I thought, fuck, IÕm dead, and went out like a light. Next thing I remember is being woken by a Daily Mail journalist the next afternoon."

Genoa timeline

On Friday the trial of twenty-eight Italian policemen, several of them very senior, got under way in Genoa for their part in one of the worst cases of police violence in post-war Italy.

GenoaÕs G8 summit of July 2001 was defaced by the brutally destructive protests of a small fraction of protesters identified with ItalyÕs Black Block group, and ferocious police assaults on peaceful demonstrators.

By midnight on Saturday 21 July the event was over - but it was then that police struck back, "to 'make up'," as the Genoa public prosecutor puts it, "for serious incidents carried out by extremists during the G8 demonstrations and rebut charges of police ineffectiveness".

Hundreds of police rampaged into a school being used as a dormitory by protest organisers where they began "beating youths like wild beasts" in the prosecutorÕs words. Seven of the victims were British. Sixty-two people were treated for injuries.

Police claimed the raid was intended to uncover caches of weapons. But nothing incriminating was found, except two Molotov cocktails - planted, it later emerged, by the police.

In May 2003 a judge ruled that none of the victims in the school had been involved in violence. "The fact that injured people were struck over and over by different officers," declares the prosecutor, "the screams, the insults, the obscene mimes (such as simulating coitus in front of bleeding individuals) have no legitimate justification."