ITALY, TWO HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FROM EVERYONE GROUP RECEIVE A PENAL ORDER (A CRIMINAL CONVICTION WITHOUT GOING TO TRIAL) FOR THEIR HUMANITARIAN WORK: “IT IS THE FIRST TIME IN THE WORLD”
NEW YORK CITY / LONDON, March 5, 2010. March 5, 2010. THE NEWS GIVEN BY THE HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION: “A CONVICTION BASED ON INACCURATE EVIDENCE GIVEN BY A POLICE OFFICER. IT IS THE UMPTEENTH EPISODE OF ABUSE OF POWER BY THE ITALIAN AUTHORITIES”
EVERYONE GROUP APPEALS TO THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION AND THE FRONTLINE FOUNDATION: “WE ARE ASKING FOR SUPPORT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS, VICTIMS IN ITALY OF VIOLENCE, INTIMIDATION AND JUDICIARY ABUSE OF POWER, A WORSE SITUATION THAN IN TOTALITARIAN REGIMES WHERE THE INDIVIDUAL IS AT LEAST GUARANTEED THE RIGHT TO DEFEND HIMSELF.
On February 12th, 2010, Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau, co-presidents with Matteo Pegoraro of EveryOne Group, international human rights organization based in Italy, received notification of a penal order, with the prison sentence commuted into a heavy fine. In the decree, issued on 5/11/09 by the Pesaro Justice Court – Office of the Magistrate for Preliminary Investigations – condemns the activists for the offence punishable by art. 110, 340 of the Italian Criminal Code, because on December 20th, 2008 “in complicity with each other, they caused the interruption, or at least disturbed a police operation aimed at identifying three foreign citizens, and used abusive and disparaging language towards the officers from Pesaro-Urbino Police Headquarters, and interfered in the carrying out of their duty.”
“It is the umpteenth episode of abuse from the authorities (and in particular from the Police Headquarters) we have been subjected to in Pesaro and in Italy” say the co-presidents of the Group. ”Throughout 2008 and in the early months of 2009 we were repeatedly summoned to police headquarters because of our humanitarian work in defence of the Roma community living in our Country”.
After the protests of our Organization for the endless camp clearances of Roma families (without any offer of assistance) and after our protests over the illegitimate expulsion of a group of Afghan refugees who had applied for asylum, the Pesaro Police Commissioner issued Roberto Malini a verbal warning on the following grounds: “Seeing the Roma are notorious criminals, I consider EveryOne Group part of a criminal organization and I invite it to cease its activity”. Following this warning, the activists of EveryOne Group were subjected to various episodes of intimidation and provocation, while the brutal operations aimed at driving the Roma out of the city continued. The attitude of the Police Commissioner and the anti-Roma programme carried out by the Pesaro authorities have been the subject of various Parliamentary questions, leading to the transfer of the Police Commissioner to a different detachment.
Following the camp clearance (in mid winter) of the last Roma families to take refuge in Pesaro, EveryOne Group filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the same Pesaro Justice Court – reporting both the violation of human rights and the open hostility shown towards human rights defenders.
“We were expecting the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the abuse committed by the local authorities towards the Roma community”, say Malini, Pegoraro and Picciau, “actions that have led to several deaths (due to the hardship suffered by seriously ill people, who were suddenly left without a shelter over their heads), miscarriages (due to the stress and fear experienced by the pregnant women faced with so many armed police officers) and serious humanitarian emergencies.
Instead, the same authorities made use of a legal instrument that exists only in Italy, an instrument that violates article 24 of the Italian Constitution. We are talking about a conviction without a trial, yet another intimidatory tool used against human rights defenders which allows an untrue statement made by a police officer to become law without the accused being given the opportunity to contradict him.
We are aware that there is a danger of falling into a legal ‘black hole’, but we have decided to oppose the sentence and we will continue to oppose it on all levels, even if this means taking the case before the European Court of Human Rights. It is a fundamental principle of civility and democracy which does not only concern this episode, but international activism as whole, and the endless obstacles and dangers involved in defending the lives and the dignity of our most vulnerable citizens”.
As for the case in question, Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau say “on the evening of December 20th, 2008 a police officer was talking in an arrogant manner to a young Roma man, while his colleague waited in the patrol car in front of the bar to be served with sandwiches and drinks. We greeted the young man, Nico Grancea, who we knew very well seeing we had been offering him assistance for over year. In answer, we received from the first officer a brusque and threatening invitation to show some identification. We have had dealings with the police force for years and therefore have sufficient experience to know not to rise to the bait. The police officer took down our details without issuing any notification. The magistrates investigating the case did not listen to what the owner of the bar, Mr. Grancea, or the EveryOne activists had to say. The Pesaro investigating magistrate then decided for “a conviction without a trial”.
“Through our appeal and the relevant procedures for defending our humanitarian work” says EveryOne Group, “we intend to bring the case to the attention of the authorities in charge of protecting human rights defenders, in order for them to establish efficient organisms that defend the work of activists who are forced to operate in extremely difficult conditions”.
On February 14th, 2010 Malini and Picciau’s case was brought up by the co-president of EveryOne, Matteo Pegoraro, in Dublin, during the 5th Frontline Platform for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which EveryOne Group (the only European organization) had been invited to attend along with 99 other human rights defenders from all over the world – activists who have received several threats during the course of their human rights activities. “We are appealing to the Frontline Foundation (which protects human rights activists all over the world in cooperation with the United Nations and European institutions) to take up our case. We hope too that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, – always very alert to episodes of this kind – to immediately intervene against this judiciary abuse, which has no precedent in European activism. We will fight” says Pegoraro, “to ensure that these two human rights defenders – who have been involved for many years in difficult campaigns in defence of minority groups – are not subjected to this violation, even more so if we consider that as co-presidents of EveryOne, they were operating in Pesaro and on Italian territory on behalf of the European MP, Viktoria Mohacsi with the precise aim of investigating the behaviour of the authorities towards the Roma people in Italy.
On behalf of our group, we invite civil society, the politicians who are more alert to matters of fundamental rights, the human and civil rights associations and organizations and the European and international institutions and authorites, to express their criticism of an action that goes against all the charters on the human rights of the individual – as well as violating the international laws on the protection and freedom of action and movement of human rights defenders”.
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