The Extinction Rebellion protest on September 18 of last year, in which eight activists chained themselves to the tops of the columns of Turin’s Royal Palace to draw attention to the silence of the media about the ecological and climate crisis, resulted in criminal charges for all of them. A fundraising campaign was organized during the long legal process that took place during the 10 anxiety-filled months that followed.
Now, the latest news is that the judge Silvia Salvadori of the Court of Turin has approved the request to dismiss the charges filed by the public prosecutor, Elisa Pazé, which dismantled point by point each of the counts of indictment alleged by the Turin Police: “dangerous ignition of materials and explosions” (Article 703 of the Penal Code), for having lit smoke bombs for 40 seconds during the protest, and “refusal to comply with the measures of the authorities” (Article 650 of the Penal Code), for not having come down from the columns when the police ordered them to. According to the public prosecutor, no crimes were committed.
Among the eight protesters who climbed the columns—while the others were protesting at ground level—was Paolo Marchetti, a 35-year-old physicist from Turin, active in the nonviolent Extinction Rebellion movement for almost 3 years, which has spread from the UK throughout the world with initiatives of civil disobedience, of a theatrical and colorful nature, about issues tied to climate change. These protests aim to pressure governments to implement “immediate action” and the media to cover “the truth” about the seriousness of the situation.
“I’m happy the charges were dismissed,” was Marchetti’s reaction to the ruling. “It means that something in the justice system is working. The indictments were specious and out of proportion. We must defend the right to peacefully express dissent on a subject that concerns everyone, but on which too little is being said. This is the basis of democracy. There is no more time to lose, but unfortunately countries keep going in the opposite direction.”
The Public Prosecutor, Elisa Pazé, wrote in the petition for dismissal that “the order to get down (from the gate), while legitimate, does not seem to meet the requirements of Article 650 of the Penal Code, as the action taken by the suspects did not endanger public order or public safety.” The other count of indictment does not hold up either, because “the lighting of a single smoke bomb did not involve even the slightest risk, and it was not thrown towards the people present.”
The ruling marks a victory for the movement, whose activities were particularly affected by criminal charges and fines last fall. After the activists in Turin, others in Rome received fines for “failure to respect social distancing” after blocking the entrance to the ENI headquarters. These charges were clearly “specious,” according to the organization. As a result, the national network launched a crowdfunding campaign with the aim of paying the fines and the lawyers’ fees. Nearly 20,000 euros have been collected. “Humanity is at a crossroads. We have entered the sixth mass extinction in history, and the people who are trying to say this today are being repeatedly silenced with fines and lawsuits,” the organization commented.
The protest actions of the movement are distinguished by a strong theatrical and communicative impact. One saw an example of this on Friday in Naples, for the G20 Climate Summit, where the movement staged a funeral procession. The protest in Turin was in a similar vein: “The topic that those eight people wanted to say something about, by exposing themselves to the risk of prosecution, concerns the whole of humanity. It concerns the media world, which doesn’t talk about it adequately (or isn’t talking about it at all), and it concerns the world of politics, which is failing to make effective decisions and delegating to the police the management and repression of legitimate manifestation of dissent, which in Italy are guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution,” the Turin activists write. “This story concerns every single citizen. It is the story of all those who still believe in the value of participation and free dissent.”