Commentary. The crimes Cospito committed (and their gravity) are not at issue here; for that matter, his request is not for freedom, but for more humane prison treatment.

In Italy’s Cospito case, action from the government is urgently needed

It’s a well-known script that we’ve been through many times before: the worsening health of Alfredo Cospito [the anarchist convicted of terrorism charges and serving a sentence of life in prison] makes it urgent to adopt measures to save his life (the revocation, at least temporarily, of the “41-bis” solitary confinement regime); in parallel, there are demonstrations by anarchists featuring clashes with the police and attacks originating from anarchist groups (or at least appearing to do so); meanwhile, the government and the parliamentary majority are circling the wagons, saying that the state cannot give in to blackmail and trying to make it so the issue is dead and buried (in the literal sense). The sequence of arguments they’re presenting says a lot, but is completely unfounded.

First of all: the protagonists of the affair are an imprisoned anarchist and the government. The others are either supporting (or disruptive) actors or extras. For over a hundred days, Cospito has been on a hunger strike, has lost 42 kilograms and is now severely debilitated and struggling to stand, so that according to the doctors he must refrain from walking and is using a wheelchair. At this point, it’s not clear how long his body will hold up. His protest is against being subjected to the Article 41-bis regime of solitary confinement and, more generally, against that regime and against life imprisonment without parole. The latter, more general goal is complicated to achieve and, in any case, can only be affected for the medium-term or long-term. The first, however, can be addressed immediately by a simple decision of the Justice Minister.

The crimes Cospito committed (and their gravity) are not at issue here; for that matter, his request is not for freedom, but for more humane prison treatment, namely the one he had received until a year ago, for a full nine years (proving that there are alternatives to solitary confinement). There is no blackmail here, which requires violence or a threat constituting “moral coercion” against others (in this case, the state); Cospito isn’t threatening anyone, but is putting his own life on the line with a drawn-out suicide. The state (and thus the government) has him in custody but also in its care, and must decide, given that he will remain in custody anyway, on whether he will live or die.

That is the dilemma: everything else is just looking for an alibi. And his transfer to the Opera prison, the latest news as of the time of writing, is a first step, but still an insufficient one (since it helps control the effects of the hunger strike, but doesn’t do anything about its causes).

Second: there are demonstrations of support for Cospito and his hunger strike. They show that his gesture is not that of one isolated person. It would be strange if there weren’t any protests in solidarity, and there will be even more if the matter is not quickly resolved. Sometimes such protests have seen clashes with the police. This happens sometimes, in protests under many different banners, and if crimes were committed, they should be punished. But this has nothing to do with Cospito’s hunger strike and the need to address the problems it poses, with intelligence and humanity.

It is also true that there have been attacks and threatening letters marked with the “A” symbol used by anarchists. They probably came from areas within the anarchist world (although it’s legitimate to harbor some doubts, in a country where provocations and derailments have been taking place both on the small and large scale). The perpetrators should be condemned and prosecuted. But, again, what does this have to do with Cospito’s health condition? What is being obfuscated is the fact that good reasons remain good reasons even if they are supported (by third parties) using unacceptable and/or criminally illicit methods.

Third, and finally, there is the general issue of the 41-bis isolation regime and life without parole. Here, shameless exploitation of the issue is at its peak: some even bring up Denaro Messina, Riina, the Mafia and whatever else. Entirely beside the point. Not only because the case of Alfredo Cospito is nothing like those; but above all because the problem that lies before us is not so much with these legal institutions as with their application and extension, which have led to the exorbitant number of 749 prisoners subjected to the 41-bis regime and 1280 sentenced to life without parole, to the de facto abolition of the judge’s discretion regarding the manner of executing the sentence, to extra punitive measures through which a regime of “hard time” that is not provided for by law has been introduced into the system.

Perhaps it would be good to start talking about these issues calmly instead of hurling anathemas that end up also undermining justified measures to fight against the Mafia.

There are countries in which dying in prison by hunger strike is a choice often made, to the indifference (or even intentional complacency) of the government. It’s enough to look at the example of Turkey. This is not the case in Italy, at least for now. We can only hope that this won’t change.

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