Analysis. Salis returned to the courtroom in Budapest only to have her request for house arrest in Hungary rejected – a decision widely expected, but painful all the same.

Salis still in chains, an embarrassment to the Meloni government

She entered the court in Budapest in chains.

He walked out of the court in Milan a free man.

On Thursday, the cases of Ilaria Salis and Gabriele Marchesi, both accused of attacking neo-Nazis in Hungary in February last year, showed both sides of a situation that has certainly brought shame to the Meloni government and to Italian diplomacy.

Salis returned to the courtroom in Budapest only to have her request for house arrest in Hungary rejected – a decision widely expected, but painful all the same. The 39-year-old has been imprisoned for 13 months on charges that in Italy would amount to very minor injuries, and Thursday’s hearing was merely a show put on to reiterate Budapest’s point of view on this story before the world.

Roberto Salis, her father, explains it well: “In this place, Ilaria is guilty for three reasons: she is a woman, she is not Hungarian, and she is anti-fascist.” This situation had been obvious for some time. And, in case anyone hadn’t gotten the message yet, when entering the courthouse, the large solidarity group that rushed to Budapest from Italy (parliamentarians, humanitarian NGOs, embassy official Attila Trasciatti and even the cartoonist Zerocalcare) was greeted with insults and threats from a handful of neo-Nazis: “Shut up or we’ll smash your heads.”

Then, before Judge Jozsef Sòs, nothing in effect happened: the hearing of the prosecution’s witnesses was scheduled, but did not take place due to unspecified “delays”; then the request for house arrest in Budapest was unceremoniously rejected. “The circumstances have not changed,” Judge Sòs said. “There is still the danger of flight.”

Lawyer Eugenio Losco, also present in the courtroom, had this to say in response: “I don’t think that in Hungary there can be different treatment from what we have seen, and I think this is unacceptable for Italy.” The court’s decision was appealed and will be discussed again on May 24, “but at the moment there isn’t much hope that this measure can be changed, given the court’s attitude. There is a risk, a very concrete one, that a first-degree verdict will be reached with Ilaria still in prison,” Losco concluded.

And so, in Italy, while opposition forces are pointing out that Italy’s diplomatic activities have proved to be of no use and the reassuring words of Tajani and Nordio (who suggested requesting house arrest in Hungary) have been empty, those from the government continue to pretend nothing is happening.

“The judge is wrong, but we must not politicize the affair,” Tajani told the press in his usual manner; although the problem, in all likelihood, is that he has confined his (ineffective) work to the shadows instead of raising his voice about a situation that should not be acceptable in the European Union, because of the enormous disproportion between the facts charged and the possible sentence (up to 24 years in prison), because of the scandalous conditions of Hungarian prisons and because of the appalling spectacle of a defendant entering the courtroom chained and on a leash, even though this is often the case in the Hungarian system.

Also on Thursday, on the basis of these obvious facts, the Milan Court of Appeal denied Hungary’s request to extradite Gabriele Marchesi. Once again, this is a decision that had been expected for some time. Prosecutor Cuno Tarfusser had already spoken out against the extradition of the young man on several occasions, and he reiterated this during the last hearing as well: “Hungary is a state that has abandoned, has moved away from the idea and the legal principles that underlie the single European space.” Furthermore, according to the prosecutor, when judged on the merits, the European Arrest Warrant against Marchesi “violates the principle of proportionality,” because “the proposed sentence, between 2 and 24 years, is for life-threatening injuries, while the alleged injuries only corresponded to 5 days of treatment.”

After a brief deliberation in the judges’ chamber, Judges Monica Fagnoni, Stefano Caramellino and Cristina Ravera ruled once and for all that Marchesi would not be extradited, also ordering his immediate release (he had been under house arrest since November). In its ruling, the panel pointed out that the “young man has a fixed abode, has not spent time in Italian prisons, has no criminal record, has always shown up for the hearings, and prison detention, even temporary, would be perceived as particularly degrading,” also because the trial could go on for a very long time and pre-trial detention could last as long as three years.

The Italian court had also asked Hungary whether there were grounds to grant alternative measures to prison for Marchesi, but “the foreign response denied any possibility of less coercive measures,” a fact that highlights “serious prejudice” against the Italian. Hence the judges ruled to reject the European arrest warrant.

At the reading of the ruling, Marchesi hugged a friend present with him in the courtroom, said he was “happy” to the reporters and then, as advised by his lawyer Mauro Straini, ran home to wait for the notification of the ruling that makes him a free person again.

Straini concluded: “I would like to exclude the possibility that this decision could in any way influence the trial of Ilaria Salis. It is an imperative duty, to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of the person. This is a guarantee at the basis of the democratic system.” Of the democratic system, indeed. Not the one in Hungary.

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