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The Guardian: Brutality trials start for top Italian police


Brutality trials start for top Italian police

· G8 protesters claim they were gassed and beaten
· New laws could render convictions meaningless

John Hooper in Rome
Wednesday October 12, 2005
The Guardian

Seventy-five people, including some of Italy's
most senior police officers, go on trial in the
next two days, accused of taking part in an orgy
of brutality against protesters during and after
the demonstrations at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa.

Court papers seen by the Guardian show that one
police witness gave a written statement
describing his colleagues "beating young people
like wild beasts". Several of the victims were British.

The defendants all deny the charges. Even if
found guilty, it looks increasingly unlikely that
any will go to prison, or even pay a fine,
because of a bill currently making its way
through the Italian parliament. The proposed
legislation, which critics of Silvio Berlusconi's
government say was devised to keep the prime
minister's former lawyer out of jail, would render any sentences null and void.

Twenty-five protesters are on trial accused of looting and damage to property.

The first of the two new trials begins today with
47 police and medical staff accused of
mistreating arrested demonstrators at a camp at
Bolzaneto, near Genoa. Prosecutors allege
detainees were beaten and sprayed with
asphyxiating gas. They say some were forced to
shout out chants in praise of Italy's late
fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, and that at
least one of the songs was anti-semitic. Charges
brought against the defendants range from actual
bodily harm to failure to respect international human rights conventions.

Among those indicted is the commander of Italy's
penitentiary guards, who was promoted to his
position despite being placed under investigation
for failing to prevent abuses. The head of the
camp's medical staff, Giacomo Toccafondi, is
charged with, among other things, failing to report the gassing of detainees.

The second trial, which starts on Friday,
concerns the night of July 22 2001, when police
in riot gear burst into a school being used as a
dormitory by demonstrators. They thought the
school was a headquarters for the so-called
"black block" protesters who were responsible for
much of the violence and vandalism during the
anti-G8 demonstrations. Almost a hundred people
were injured in the operation which was overseen
by some of Italy's most senior police officers.
Three of the victims were left in a coma. No one
arrested in the raid was later charged.

After breaking down the door, officers belonging
to the 7th anti-riot squad, based in Rome, began
kicking and beating those inside with such
ferocity that "in the space of a few minutes, all
the occupants of the ground floor had been
reduced to complete helplessness", the
prosecutors said. On the top floor, some
demonstrators were hiding in cupboards. "They
were discovered, viciously beaten and dragged to lower floors," they allege.

After the raid, police claimed they had found
Molotov cocktails on the premises. The
prosecutors allege, however, that the homemade
bombs were confiscated by police during the
demonstrations and planted at the school as part
of a "clear manipulation constructed to deceive".
None of the officers on trial has been suspended
from duty. In June, the officer commanding the
7th Rome anti-riot squad was promoted.