Tech & Rights

Court Condemns Italy for Torturing Prisoners

Italy has once again been condemned by the Court of Human Rights for allowing police to torture prisoners, a clear violation of human rights. It's time to introduce the crime of torture into the Italian criminal code.

by Associazione Antigone

For the second time in the last few weeks, Italy has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for violating Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, on both occasions for violence by the police. The first instance was the case of Dimitri Alberti, and in this most recent case, the Court determined that the violence suffered by Valentino Saba on April 3, 2000, while he was in the prison in Sassari, also constituted a violation of his human rights. But this time the Court not only condemned the specific instance the violence, but also Italy's response to it, saying the country did not fully satisfy the requirement of a thorough and effective investigation into the matter, as required by law.

"Finally, after 14 years, justice is done," said Patrizio Gonnella, President of Antigone. "But, once again, to get there the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights was necessary. These rulings are shameful for a civilized country such as Italy, which should be able to treat everybody with respect and dignity. It is also a serious issue that, when violations of Article 3 take place, our judicial system is not able to react adequately. This happens because there is no longer the crime of torture in the Italian criminal code. If there was this crime, the statute of limitations for this case would not have been so short."

"For this reason," continues Gonnella, "politicians must now take a position on some issues that need to be addressed immediately: the inclusion of the crime of torture in the criminal code; the impunity of those who commit acts of violence against people in custody; and adequate mechanisms of education and training for law enforcement personnel."

It was Antigone that helped bring the case against the state for the violence in Sassari's prison, starting the largest investigation into prison violence ever to occur in Europe. The investigation led to the arrests of nearly 100 police officers and other members of the staff.

The following is an excerpt from the third report on prison conditions published by Antigone, called Antigone in prison, in which the Sassari case is discussed:

"On March 27, 2000, around midnight, the inmates of San Sebastiano prison in Sassari began a peaceful protest, beating the bars of their cells with their cutlery, setting fire to their sheets and blowing up the gas cans. This protest was followed by a protest of the prison officers, who went on strike. Because of their strike, prisoners were left without access to the sopravvitto (canteen) and without cigarettes. On April 3, a general evacuation of prisoners was organized, to transfer them to other prisons in Sardinia. During the transfer, 30 prisoners were brutally beaten. The relatives protested and the first complaints were filed. On April 18, 2000, Antigone met the leaders of the penitentiary administration. On April 20, the mothers of young beaten prisoners organized a candlelight vigil. On May 3, 2000, the Prosecutor's Office issued 82 custody warrants for officers and officials involved in the incident, resulting in 22 incarcerations and 60 home detentions. The regional superintendent of the penitentiary administration, the warden and the commander of the penitentiary police were involved in the investigation."

Gavino P., who occupied cell 75, said: “That day, at the time of the raid, I was in the den of lions, a courtyard accessed by a tunnel. We all had to walk through the same path, arms behind our backs, to the meeting rooms. That day, when they put me in handcuffs, I sort of switched off. I remember that I was stripped naked, and that someone told me that now I was going to get tired of playing the boss. I even pretended to faint, hoping that they would leave me alone, but they beat me while I was on the ground. In the meeting room I met one prisoner that had wet himself."

Another prisoner, Masimo D., recounts: "The commander grabbed my ear, trying to rip out my earring. Another guard intervened to protect me. 'I will deal with you later,' the commander told me." Costantino C., another inmate and witness, recalls one of the most terrible images from the experience: that of another prisoner, his head forcefully submerged in a bucket of water.