Tech & Rights

Man Died in Custody with His Body Battered – No One Is Responsible, Court Rules

An Italian appeals court has recently acquitted five doctors for the death of a man who died in custody after being beaten, after a lower court had already acquitted the policemen involved. This means that no one will be held responsible for his death.

by Associazione Antigone
Ilaria Cucchi shows a picture of her brother's body

All of the policemen and physicians accused of playing a role in the death of Stefano Cucchi, a 31-year-old Roman man who died in custody, have now been acquitted, after an appellate court cleared the doctors of any wrongdoing. After Mr. Cucchi's death in October 2009, his family decided to publish the pictures of his body, which showed evident signs of physical abuse. The release of the graphic images and the circumstances of his death shocked the whole of Italy.

Acquittals too common

In June 2013, five physicians were convicted in the first trial for not having adequately attended to Mr. Cucchi, while the policemen involved were acquitted. The convictions were appealed and the appellate court's ruling from October 31, 2014, vacated the convictions, meaning there is now not a single person held legally responsible for his death.

In five years, the Italian legal system has been unable to correctly judge what should have been a relatively straightforward criminal case, the events of which occurred in closed but well-monitored institutions (barracks, jails, hospitals) and involved a small number of actors. “If the inquirers have not found who is responsible for Stefano Cucchi's death, it is because they didn't want to find them,” said human rights organization Antigone. “[Acquittals] have happened too often in our history when violence by law enforcement agencies was involved.”

Public indignation

Police trade unions have publicly declared their satisfaction with the sentence, stating that Mr. Cucchi was a drug addict and that it is only his and his family's fault that he died. But in the media and across the broader public, a feeling of indignation has exploded. Demonstrations are being organized all around the country. Facebook and Twitter are full of comments expressing solidarity to Ilaria Cucchi, Mr. Cucchi's sister, who has incessantly fought for transparency and accountability for her brother's death. The president of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi have stated that they believe the state is responsible for Mr. Cucchi's death.

Italy's penal code still lacks the crime of torture, notwithstanding Italy's ratification of the United Nation Convention against Torture, which says that each partner country should have an explicit provision against torture in its legal code. A draft law against torture has recently been approved by the Italian Senate and now awaits passage by the other house. A better text could be written, according to civil organizations that have been fighting for years for the introduction of the crime of torture, but it is hoped that this draft law will soon be voted through by the entire Parliament.

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