Reportage. At a pre-trial hearing, facing charges of helping refugees in the small town he governed, Mimmo Lucano learned that he is still not allowed to return home. Protesters from unions and NGOs appeared to support him.

Lucano is no longer mayor, but he still can’t return to Riace

Mimmo Lucano got the bad news the evening before the first hearing in his trial. The court that will judge him on the accusations of abuse of the powers of his office and favoring illegal immigration rejected Thursday the application his lawyers filed following the municipal elections in Riace, in which they asked that he be allowed to return to his town.

The request had been perfectly justified, both legally and logically. Since he is no longer mayor (and not even on the municipal council), and considering that there are no more migrants in the municipality of Riace, the prudential considerations which motivated his exile (such as the danger of a new offense or evidence tampering) should no longer apply.

However, in spite of these obvious facts, the Court of Locri sided with the prosecutor and insisted that Lucano must not be allowed to go back to Riace, with little reason given beyond the fact that, as the judges noted, “there is a pending trial in progress.” By now, this has become more than a simple prohibition of residency—something more akin to imprisonment. The trial is a political and politicized one: “Solidarity is on trial,” as one of the signs held up by the protesters outside the courthouse read.

The illustrious defendant arrived at 8:45 a.m., his face tired after a sleepless night: “It’s like having been punished before the trial,” Lucano said softly. “I am not losing my faith in justice, but I have the impression that there are two levels of justice, one for white-collar people and the ‘important’ categories, and another for those who have nothing, like me.” The courtroom was packed, everyone being allowed to enter except the activists, who were denied access due to (non-existent) “public order issues.”

The square was full of police trucks, as the whole area had been commandeered since Sunday: in the fevered imagination of Interior Ministry officials, they seemed to have been expecting a barbarian invasion on the shores of the Ionian Sea instead of peaceful demonstrators. Obviously, there were no problems at all. The demonstrators included union representatives from the USB, CGIL and FIOM, the NGO Peppino Impastato from Cinisi, and delegations from Crotone, Cosenza and Reggio: 300 people in all, while the organizers perhaps expected more. The slogan of the June 11 Committee organizing the sit-in was “Resistance with Mimmo and for Mimmo”—however, one could feel an air of resignation among the protesters. They all wore red shirts with the slogan “Retiamo umani” (“Let us remain human”). This was Vittorio Arrigoni’s slogan from Gaza, which Mimmo Lucano has adopted as his own ever since inhumanity became government policy and humanity was made into a crime.

The court hearing was taken up by procedural matters, discussing the pre-trial and preliminary motions put forward by the defense. The panel of judges, chaired by Fulvio Accurso, postponed their ruling for the next hearing, which is set for June 17.

At 1 p.m., Lucano left the courtroom, and the crowd outside started singing “Bella Ciao.” They presented him with a microphone, and the speeches began.

“I would not be able to live if I stayed away from commitment to social causes, and the beautiful story of Riace began well before I became mayor,” Lucano said. “It is an experience that can go on, by advancing the ideas that lay at its core. We are living in a time of humanitarian emergency, and I will take up Bergoglio’s words: when you close the ports to humans and leave them open for the arms trade, we understand that the world is now adrift.”

Then, other activists made their own speeches: Nino Quaranta, Sasa Albanese, Maurizio Zavala, Peppino Lavorato (the former communist mayor of Rosarno) and Angelo Broccolo. Around 5 p.m., the rally ended and the demonstrators went home. The mayor of Locri, Giovanni Calabrese, who stayed far away, had a scornful message for them: “A pointless demonstration, it only created inconveniences.” He is another of those who got on the bandwagon of the Interior Ministry, and who seems all too willing (if he could) to prohibit the right to demonstrate as such. As for us, let us remain human.

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