Missile launchers lined the seafront dock. Helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and 20,000 police were dispatched. 200 body bags were ordered.
The result was the most violent scenes ever seen at any G8 summit. Italian police were heavily criticised internationally for the brutal tactics that left hundreds of peaceful protestors injured and one protestor, Carlo Giuliani, shot dead.
After Giuliani’s death a shoot-to-kill policy was instigated inside the heavily barricaded “red zone”, the exclusion zone around Palazzo Ducal, the summit venue. There were also recorded instances of “live fire” against protestors from police outside the red zone.
Now, four years later, the trial against five medical staff and 45 police, including some of the most senior officers in Italy, has begun.
The police are accused of brutality, illegal arrest and detention, conspiracy and planting false evidence. Medical staff are accused of negligence and compliance to the beatings and torture of protestors in what has now been labelled Genova’s “Chilean night”.
Six British witnesses, including BBC journalist Bill Hayton, and one New Zealander stepped into court on Wednesday 11 January to recount their experiences on the night of 21 July 2001. At midnight on that vicious evening police raided Diaz school and executed the most violent attack on the last night of the summit.
The Diaz school complex comprises of two buildings facing each other across Via Battisti. Diaz Pascoli was used by the Genova Social Forum lawyers. Independent radio stations broadcast from there and the Indymedia was set up on the third floor. Diaz Pertini was used as a “safe” dormitory for protestors during the three day summit.
The witness testimonies at Genova Central Tribunal were backed up with new video evidence from Oxford-based Undercurrents film maker Hamish Campbell, the first time the video has been made public.
40-year-old Campbell said half the people had fled the dormitory by midnight because of rumours of a police raid: “There were shouts of ‘police, the police are here’. Everyone started panicking,” he said.
Campbell and a German colleague took to the rooftop of Diaz Pascoli. They hid the footage tapes of the protest to avoid them being seized by the Italian police. Then Campbell began filming the devastation below.
“I was feeling worried for my safety because I was up on this roof by myself,” recounted Campbell. “The police could be in the building, they could appear at any minute. If they found me my camera would be smashed and God knows what would happen to me.”
The video shows the raid of over 200 police on Diaz Pertini. The gates are rammed open by a police van, riot police storm in and break through the crudely barricaded main door that witnesses say was a panicked attempt by protestors to defend themselves from the impending onslaught.
The most violent revelation of the Undercurrents video shows independent journalist Mark Covell already beaten to the ground by the police and lying in a pool of his own blood. He was one of the first to be attacked, as he was outside the school when the raid began.
Police continued to beat him in three separate attacks by numerous officers in riot gear, armed with batons and riot shields. The final blow to his head knocked him unconscious for 14 hours.
“I was yelling journalist,” said 38-year-old Covell from London. “The cop that was battening me said [in English] ‘you no journalist, you Black Bloc. We’re going to kill Black Bloc’. I knew then I was going to die.”
Covell suffered eight broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken hand, a twisted spine and had ten teeth kicked out.
“I was kicked out into the street and used as a football,” stated Covell. “Then a van rammed the gates. Police poured in. And then I heard a lot of screaming coming from the building [Dias Pertini].”
During the raid 93 sleeping protestors from many countries, including, England, Germany, Spain and Italy, were arrested. 62 were injured so badly they were hospitalised, including six sent immediately to intensive care.
New Zealander Sam Buchanan was inside the school as the police entered the Diaz Pertini building: “I remember we had a very lengthy discussion about where was the safest place to sleep in Genoa,” recalled Buchanan. “We decided it was probably safer to stay.
“Two hours later we heard shouts, looked out the window and saw about 60 police in helmets and body armour charging into the school gates. At that point we hastily dressed, grabbed our passports and hid under a table.”
After hearing the screams of protestors being beaten, the police broke into the room where Buchanan and his friends hid.
“Three police came to me,” said Buchanan. “I lay there on the floor trying to protect myself with a chair. And eventually decided this was a waste of time. I was going to get beaten up and decided to get it over and done with.”
Buchanan was repeatedly beaten on his left side and took three blows to the head from three police officers.
“I was then marched downstairs and saw the remains of everybody else. Some of them in much worse shape I was. I came off comparatively lightly. Others were unconscious, there was people bleeding. It was quite an astounding scene.”
Buchanan and 30 others were arrested and taken directly to Bolzaneto prison, six miles north of Genova. Another 40 hospitalised protestors were taken from San Martino hospital over the next twenty-four hours. Several of the victims were again attacked in their beds in hospital by police, then removed to Bolzaneto, where victims were then urinated on and beaten further. Women were threatened with rape, and forced to sing fascist songs along with the police.
At Bolzaneto Buchanan suffered searches, punches to the kidneys, hit over the head and was put in a cold concrete cell for 30 hours.
“We spent the first two hours spread-eagled against the wall and being kicked if we moved,” recalled Buchanan. “The worst thing was we had no idea where we were or what was happening. We were never charged with anything. We had just disappeared.”
After five days of being in custody without charge at Bolzaneto and other prisons around the Genova area, being repeatedly being denied legal representation and communication with families, the victims received their first legal advice.
“We were introduced to a lawyer,” said Buchanan. “She said there were no charges, we could go, and the arrest was illegal.”
Once released all victims and witnesses were deported under a police order issued by Minister of Interior representative Di Giovine.
A police statement said prior to the raid their officers were met with a “heavy hail of objects of every kind”, including “stones and glass bottles”. This led them to believe the protestors had “every kind of weapon”.
The video of the raid disproves this. The prosecution states the police lied to justify the raid. The police argued the video evidence does not show the entire school.
The top ranking police officers charge sheet indicted in the Diaz school raid is a list of incredible corruption, abuse of power and violation of human rights, from illegal arrest, falsifying evidence, abuse of public office to planting evidence and bodily harm.
Some of those indicted are Chief of DIGOS Intelligence Squad Spartaco Mortola, Chief and Deputy of the National Flying Squad Francesco Gratteri and Gilberto Caldarozzi, Deputy Chief of Anti-terror Squad Giovanni Luperi and Chiefs of the Riot Squad Vincenzo Canterini and Michaelangelo Fournier.
The court case continues through January with the remaining British victims and witnesses taking to the stand from 19 January. Mark Covell will face the court to give his horrific testimony on 27 January.
44 victims of the Diaz massacre from Germany and Holland victims will begin arriving in Genova over the next week, along with the final British witness and Indymedia representative.
The case is by no means be over. Up to 600 witnesses will be called before the trial ends, leading one of Italy’s most brutal cases of police violence and human rights abuses since World War Two right into the heart of the forthcoming Italian elections in April.
Link to More4 report, made in collaboration with Indymedia:
Blog of daily events: