Trial forces Italy to relive shocking police brutality

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The Independent Online

Italy is about relive two of its most shocking episodes of alleged police brutality as the trial of officers accused of illegal behaviour over attacks on anti- globalisation protesters proceed in Genoa.

The attacks occurred as the G8 summit of July 2001 in the port city was winding down after days of peaceful mass demonstrations by 200,000 people from all over the world, and violently anarchic protests by a small group known as the Black Block.

Today the trial begins of 45 police, carabinieri, prison officers and medical staff allegedly involved in the attacks at a transit holding camp. They include some of the most senior officers in the camp, and in the city. The charges against them include abuse of authority and unlawful violence.

On Friday, the case against 28 officers involved in the Diaz school raid resumes after a six-month break. Those on trial include some of the most senior police officers in the land. They are charged with trespass, false arrest, inflicting or authorising grievous bodily harm, and with inventing the story intended to justify the raid.

Many of the victims of the attacks will be in court to confront the men who attacked them, including the British freelance journalist Mark Covell, who was the first and one of the most badly injured in the school.

This week Mr Covell, who was working for IndyMedia during the summit, said: "I was in a coma for four days after the raid; my head was split from the front to the back. I had eight broken ribs, shredded lungs, 10 broken teeth. The treatment has not finished yet. I need another operation on my spine and my left hand will have to be broken and re-set. Most of the Diaz victims are in a similar state."

Genoa was the first big international event hosted by Silvio Berlusconi's then new centre-right government and although all went smoothly for the world leaders closeted in the city centre behind high wire fences, outside it was mayhem.

It was on Saturday night, as the protesters were bedding down, planning to leave the next morning, that the police decided to seize the initiative. About 150 special police led by a crack "experimental" Flying Squad unit from Rome equipped with side-handled "tonfa" batons, smashed their way into the city school, which had been loaned to the Genoa Social Forum, organisers of the protests.

The police fanned out through the three floors, beating their victims until many were unconscious on a floor splattered with blood. Sixty-two of the 93 people in the school required medical treatment; 25 had to stay in hospital for further treatment, including three who were comatose.

All were arrested, whatever their condition, and many, including some who were badly injured, were taken to a temporary detention centre called Bolzaneto, six kilometres outside the city.

More beatings and humiliations followed. Female prisoners were made to spreadeagle themselves against walls for hours in the middle of the night while police threatened to rape them with their truncheons. They were forced to sing pro-Fascist songs.

Within a day or so the foreigners among them were taken to the Italian border and told they had to leave immediately - many without money, belongings, even passports.

Paul Ginsborg, a historian of contemporary Italy, said: "Really disgusting things happened in Bolzaneto, pure Fascist stuff. With the election of the centre-right government, and with the post-Fascist leader Gianfranco Fini as Deputy Prime Minister, certain elements thought they could get away with anything."

But the victory of the police was short-lived. All the charges against those arrested were dismissed for lack of evidence. Months later it emerged that the police's prize discovery at the school, two Molotov cocktails, had been confiscated that afternoon from an unrelated locality, and planted by officers .

The prosecutor of the case, Enrico Zucca, has overcome many obstacles to bring the case this far. But now Dr Zucca fears that both may fail to come to judgement thanks to a new law now passing through parliament.

Nicknamed the "Save-Previti" law, it is purpose-made, opposition MPs claim, to enable one of Mr Berlusconi's closest colleagues, Cesare Previti, to escape prison on a judge-bribing charge by cutting in half the statute of limitations as it applies to a whole raft of criminal offences.

If the bill becomes law, the two trials will wind slowly onwards, but will finally be killed off before anyone can be punished.

Richard Parry, the British lawyer for the four British victims of the Diaz raid, said said: "It will be a funda- mental breach of their human rights if my clients can't get compensation. That would be wrong."

The protests and their aftermath

* MAY 2001: Silvio Berlusconi wins election

* 18 JULY 2001: Some 200,000 anti-globalisation protesters pour into Genoa for G8 Summit

* 20 JULY: Carlo Giuliani shot dead as he hurls fire extinguisher at police

* 21 JULY: Police raid Diaz school, many unarmed members of independent media attacked

* 22 JULY: Victims of raid sent to Bolzaneto camp and face more abuse and attacks. Charges against them later dropped

* May 2003: Genoa judge rules that none of the 93 arrested at Diaz was involved in violence

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