Reportage. The Italian antifascist is out of prison and under house arrest, but the trial against her continues. ‘Ilaria must be able to return to her home in Italy. This is our goal,’ her father said.

Ilaria Salis leaves prison, but ‘the nightmare is not over’

Shortly before lunch, Ilaria Salis arrives dressed in red at the small Budapest apartment that will house her during her house arrest. The prison guards, behind her, help her with her luggage. After more than 15 months in prison, she can finally embrace her father Roberto, who is fighting his way through the vagaries of Italian public debate and campaigning for her from north to south.

A week before, the Budapest court accepted the appeal of her defense lawyers and granted her transfer to house arrest, subject to posting a bail of 160 million forints, about €41,000.

“We have made a first step forward,” says Ilaria, “but the nightmare is not yet over.”

Her pale complexion testifies to the long time she spent in the Gyorskocsi utca maximum-security prison. One is not surprised to learn that 80 years ago it was being used by the Gestapo. She still has marks from bedbug bites on her skin, because, although her conditions in prison did improve since the media and political scandal blew up, to quote the Budapest Prison Service, “prisons in Hungary are not five-star hotels.” And it shows.

Her detention is not over, only its location has been moved: the electronic ankle monitor installed by technicians left no doubt. But now, she can finally eat a margherita pizza, as she has long dreamed of. “The next one will be better, because we will eat it in Italy,” her father Roberto Salis said during a press conference held in the late afternoon at a downtown hotel.

A few hours earlier, just after 10 a.m., he had announced Ilaria’s release. This was actually a ploy to throw off the reporters, and he apologized for it: “I understand your line of work, but I have to protect my daughter.”

Last Friday, the trial in which she is charged for three counts of assault on neo-Nazi militants was set to begin again. The hearing, set for 9 a.m., was set to include the deposition of Zoltán Tóth, who was allegedly beaten on the eve of Honor Day, the rally that gathers militants of the extreme right from Hungary and elsewhere on each February 11 to celebrate the exploits of the German SS. Two bystanders who allegedly witnessed the scene were also set to testify. Ilaria Salis can also speak or ask for counsel to intervene in response to the testimony, but this is complicated by the fact that the court documents have not yet been translated. The judge announced that this will not happen until November.

“Ilaria will have her say if needed,” her lawyer Eugenio Losco explained. He arrived in Budapest on Thursday together with his colleague Mauro Straini to meet with the defendant, for the first time without plastic barriers separating them.

“The situation is still extremely complicated,” Roberto Salis stressed. “Ilaria must be able to return to her home in Italy. This is our goal.” He went on: “Did Nordio and Tajani call me? No, they didn’t, they must have lost my number…”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tajani (Forza Italia) is sticking to the same line: “The government has been following the case from the beginning.” However, actions would also be needed in addition to the words, because there are things that can be done, beyond the possibility of Ilaria’s election to the European Parliament which would force Hungary to release the defendant. For instance, the issue of mutual recognition of pre-trial measures between EU countries is still a controversial subject. Italian courts often rule very differently. It might be helpful to get some clarification from the Ministry of Justice; however, given the current situation, that seems too much to ask.

Furthermore, still on the subject of the judicial ordeal, under the Hungarian system of calculating time served, house arrest counts as five times less than prison detention. In other words, if Ilaria Salis were to be given the maximum sentence for the crimes she is accused of, she would have to spend a total of 120 years under house arrest.

“We will request her transfer to Italy as soon as possible,” Losco continued. “In any case, I would like to emphasize that almost 16 months after the events, there are no longer any real preventive needs.”

Meanwhile, two more decisive weeks of the election campaign lie ahead. “You need to know all the facts to campaign, and my daughter has been isolated from the world for too long. I will continue to move the campaign forward until Ilaria has gotten her bearings regarding the political context in which she finds herself,” Roberto Salis stressed.

What would she work on in the European Parliament if elected? “We’ve talked about it,” he continued. “She knows that there are many people in the exact same situation as her, at least 2,500. She has learned about the case of Filippo Mosca [an Italian imprisoned in Romania, where he received a very heavy sentence] and these issues will certainly be the focus of her attention.”

But it’s still early to talk about that. Deputy Marco Grimaldi (AVS) sums it up: “Let us remember that Ilaria is not yet free. Ilaria is not home yet.”

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