Cesare Battisti, a former member of a violent, far-left organization in the ‘70s, had been given a life sentence in Italy for four murders and had been living as a fugitive in South America after escaping from prison. On Monday, he was extradited to Italy to serve out his sentence.
As one would expect, the swirl of public attention surrounding his arrival was exploited by the current government in every way possible—including by making a shocking propaganda video about Battisti and his arrest and extradition, featuring him as unwilling participant. The video was posted by Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede on his Facebook page, and occasioned a storm of outrage in an Italy that had seemed dazed and numbed before the displays of triumphalist judiciary populism staged by the yellow-brown government.
On Wednesday, the National Ombudsman for the rights of persons detained or deprived of their liberty, Mauro Palma, urged the Minister of Justice to immediately remove the propaganda video, as it was in violation of several laws protecting the dignity of prisoners. In parallel, the professional association of Roman criminal lawyers, the Camera Penale di Roma, addressed an official complaint to the public prosecutor’s office denouncing the illegalities committed through the publication of the video by the M5S minister on his Facebook page. The vice-president of the Senate, Anna Rossomando (PD), submitted an official question to the government, signed by 29 senators, asking whether minister Bonafede was aware of the fact that the video blatantly violated the privacy—and thus the personal safety—of the prison officers and police officers who ended up in the “B-movie,” as vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies Mara Carfagna called it.
Rossomanno also directly asked Minister Bonafede what he intends to do at this point to protect these law enforcement officers “after the exposure of their identity and its dissemination to a wide audience.” The faces of many officers and agents can be seen in the video. To be fair, some of them look like they’re posing for the camera, switching positions so they can get into the shot next to the “prize,” Cesare Battisti, who looks at them in disbelief. We see one plainclothes officer clearly trying to cover his face to avoid being filmed.
“I have waited for the public frenzy to subside regarding the operation that returned Battisti to face his obligation to serve the sentence that the justice system has handed him for his crimes,” said ombudsman Mauro Palma, reiterating, however, that the law calls for disciplinary measures against those who violate the provision of Article 42-bis, paragraph 4 of the Prisons Code, which requires that, during the transportation of prisoners, “the necessary precautions are taken in order to protect the subjects being transported from the curiosity of the public and from every form of media publicity.” Palma noted pointedly that, “certainly, the legislature could not have expected that it would be the leaders of the institutions who would fail to respect these provisions.” The Roman criminal lawyers association also included in their complaint a violation of Article 114 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits publishing images of people arrested in handcuffs.
The vice-president of the High Council of the Judiciary, David Ermini, stated his disapproval of the video (“I would not have done it,” he said, “speaking for myself”), and even the Lega’s Roberto Maroni did so (“I would have avoided doing that”).
Beside the role of the institutions, the manner in which the Italian media has covered Battisti’s extradition operation has also been the target of much criticism, on social media and not only, from both public figures and ordinary citizens. “It was a day I’d like to forget as soon as possible,” said the former Minister of Justice and former Constitutional Court judge Giovanni Maria Flick.
Claudio Martelli, another former Justice Minister, was also appalled at the spectacle: “It was something very disgusting, really unimaginable… the only thing missing in the video was primitive tribesmen dancing around a totem pole.” According to a joint statement by the members of the High Council of the Judiciary belonging to the Area progressive group, the event showcased “a primitive notion of what ‘justice’ is”: “whoever the prisoner may be, and regardless of their guilt, they have the right that the state must respect the dignity that Article 3 of the Constitution guarantees to every person.”
The Vatican intervened in the controversy as well, with Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaking out to remind people about Italy’s “first class juridical culture,” urging that it be protected by “not inciting or awakening certain backwards instincts in people.”
The most biting criticism, however, came from the police unions: “A strong Republic applies the laws and respects the rules and procedures even in the face of the most horrendous criminal – and it doesn’t need to turn it into a public spectacle,” said the secretary of SILP-CGIL, Daniele Tissone. Furthermore—the FP-CGIL accused—the choreographed media show “was intended to divert attention from much larger problems” that the prison police has to deal with every day, concealing “a vacuum” of leadership underneath.
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