Last week the final British witnesses gave their evidence in the Italian court case against 29 police officers accused of crimes relating to the horrific raid on the GSF Diaz school in Genoa, when Italian police stormed their way into the school and savagely beat scores of people. In the building opposite the police immobilised the grassroots media, smashed equipment and phones, stole video tapes and took the hard drives of the volunteer legal team's computers.
More than once the court proceedings had to be suspended as witnesses were overcome with emotion as they recounted their ordeal.
Listening to these brave people re-live the events of that night as their voices crack and waiver with the pain of the memories has been heart rending. One court appointed translator even finished her shift with tears in her eyes.
It's one thing to try and tell your close friends or family about what happened, or recount the experiences to others, but sitting in a court, back in the city of Genoa itself, to finally give a full account in the official prosecution case is quite another.
The questioning by lawyers representing the police accused of the beatings has been shameful in itself. They have been aggressive, shouting and arguing, pressurising and intimidating the witnesses, clutching at straws.
The court hearings themselves have been somewhat different from what you'd expect from a UK court. There is less formality and a heavy dose of Italian drama. Lawyers in black robes stride up and down at the back of the court talking into their mobile phones. People enter and leave at will. Others sit taking notes on laptops and move around to talk to each other. And in the public dock at the back, plain-clothes police glare at witnesses and pull faces at the prosecution. Recently a British journalist and an Italian photographer covering the proceedings were surrounded by police outside the court, and were also clearly intimidated by police inside. There have been countless shouting matches and high dramas on the floor of the court.
Some of the British witnesses and the journalists covering their case have also been followed around the city of Genoa by DIGOS - the Italian plain-clothes political police. This overt surveillance of witnesses was obviously an attempt at intimidation, and can be unnerving when you know the links between members of the police force and far right fascist groups. Under Italian law it's also illegal. Thankfully this practice was abandoned after some of the British filmed the police following them down the street and into restaurants and then showed the footage to their lawyers. It remains to be seen if it will resume as other nationalities arrive to give evidence.
While the witnesses recount the horrific details of their beatings, as said previously the police lawyers for the most part seem to clutch at straws. Grilling witnesses about the shape of the batons used to beat them, or the colour of the belts of the men that attacked them.
These details are certainly important since much of the case involves identifying which of the numerous different police units that were there that night were responsible for the various crimes. From this the court can then deduce where the chains of command lead. If individual police officers cannot be identified, then at least their commanding officers can be held responsible - for they were there on the ground witnessing the atrocities and did nothing to stop them. However much of this detail is provided by video evidence and other witnesses. That the police lawyers subject the victims to such aggressive relentless questioning (in some cases for up to 40 mins) is both a waste of court time and a further abuse.
For the witnesses themselves it's enough that they were beaten by police with batons. 'I was trying to shield my head from the blows, I was not trying to note the exact details of what the police wore' is a common response. At one point last week the police lawyers put it to one British witness that he would have had time to look at the officers between his first and second savage beating. Their insistent questioning caused yet another court drama as one person called out "Shame on you!" while a woman in the public dock shouted "Clowns!" at the police lawyers and was promptly thrown out of the court.
TESTIMONIES OF TERROR
Last week after the British witnesses finished giving their evidence, the first of the Germans took the stand. In contrast with the British who all dressed smartly, mostly in suits, the Germans wore mostly black. They were also mostly younger.
They all however gave impressive testimonies, laden with detail. All told the same stories, German and British alike, of the unprovoked savage beatings, the humiliation and insults, and the screams of the other victims.
One of the shortest testimonies was given by a German woman. She was among several people forced to line up against a wall and then savagely beaten, one after the other. She was the first in line, and the first heavy baton blow aimed at her head knocked her unconscious immediately. When she regained consciousness she was in hospital, but it was clear from her other extensive injuries that the police had continued beating her remorselessly as she lay unconscious. Testimonies from other German witnesses confirmed this, as well as the fact that the police went methodically down the line of people beating each in turn. At the time her friends thought she was dead.
One British woman described the repulsive scene as one police officer armed with a sharp knife roughly cut locks of hair from bloodied people who had been heavily beaten. Chillingly the police officer then stood next to her stroking her hair in mock sympathy and gently murmuring into her ear something like 'Oh poor pretty girl, poor poor pretty girl'.
It turns your stomach.
The same British woman also recounted the numbing experience of hearing the seemingly endless baton blows land on her partner as he lay on top of her trying to protect her.
The full catalogue of violent beatings is simply shocking. More than that it's hard to comprehend the sheer scale of what happened that night. Struggling to find the words to describe the full horror of the scene witnesses talk of the ground floor of the Diaz school as resembling a battlefield, or looking like the aftermath of a bomb explosion, with shocked and injured people lying everywhere, some convulsing in fits, others bleeding so profusely that blood collected in pools where they lay.
ABUSE CONTINUED AT DETENTION CENTRE
Of course for almost all of these victims of the police attack the ordeal did not end there. Most of those that were taken to hospital, as well as those not so seriously injured, were then taken to Bolzaneto military detention centre, where the beatings and humiliation continued unchecked, hour after hour. It was a place of nightmares, where an out of control police force betrayed their fascist allegiances forcing people to sing fascist songs under pictures of Mussolini, urinating on people, cutting women's hair off, beating people again and again. The police systematically asked people "Who is your government?". Giving any answer other than "The Police" prompted yet another beating.
But Bolzaneto is a separate court case. Some of the witnesses will have to return to Genoa again to recount yet more of their horrific experiences. The prosecution of 48 Carabinieri, police officers, prison guards and police medical officers from Bolzaneto is in fact running in parallel with the Diaz case, with the court sitting each Thursday and Friday. In contrast to the Diaz case however the defendants themselves are appearing before the victims. There are over 500 testimonies in total relating to Bolzaneto and a verdict is not expected until around Easter 2007.
The Diaz case itself has a total of around 600 testimonies. The trial has been running throughout most of last year and many of the Italian witnesses appeared last autumn. Following on from last week there are now more witnesses and victims to take the stand including more Germans. These testimonies will continue up until the start of April before a ten-day break for the Italian elections, due on 9th April.
While no one is sure how the outcome of the Italian elections may effect the trial, the currently planned timetable would see further testimonies after the election by Spanish, American, Canadian and other nationalities who were beaten.
Following these testimonies will come a selection of the 170 or so other witnesses to the events during the raid. Thirty of these are witnesses for the Police.
Again given the numbers this phase is expected to last up until June or July 2006. The accused police officers have all elected to not appear in their defence (a sort of Italian 5th amendment) but instead to submit their written statements. Significantly it must be noted that many of these statements have changed radically over time as more evidence against the police officers of the beatings and the cover-ups they were responsible for have come to light. Many of their statements also clearly contradict each other.
Following the completion of all evidence and testimony there's expected to be a period of several months while the case is considered, with the verdicts due perhaps towards the end of 2006 - but of course no one can be certain.
SOLIDARITY AND SUPPORT
One of the questions asked most to the witnesses by their supporters has been "What was it like returning to Genoa?".
Many reply that they were most definitely not looking forward to it. But they say that on balance it's been a good thing. An opportunity to finally have their say, perhaps to find some closure. They point out that after what happened to them it's not the city they hate, but the various police forces and their fascist allegiances. Some still wince at the sound of passing police sirens in the city, but they're at pains to thank the people of Genoa, who even now show an incredible amount of support for the victims. Many thank the tireless work of the Italian Supporto Legale group, from the lawyers to the volunteers who have worked for years amassing and analysing evidence, their office crammed to the rafters with files and video tapes. Some also thank the prosecuting judiciary, Dr Zucca and his staff, for pursuing the truth so doggedly, in a country where recent history has seen many a judge murdered or disappeared.
Of course one has to remember it's not just the victims of Diaz or Bolzaneto. There were untold savage beatings on the streets of Genoa during the main two days of G8 protests. Last week, on Saturday 28th January, Giuliano Giuliani, the father of Carlo Guilliani who was shot dead by police during the G8 protests spoke at a packed meeting of the 'Committee for Truth and Justice for Genoa' in Pegli, just outside of Genoa. At the same meeting one of the British and one of the German victims spoke as well. To me it's clear Italy is still coming to terms with the brutality with which the G8 protests were met. As Enrica Bartesaghi from the Committee has said, Genoa represented "the biggest episode of repression committed by law enforcement officials in a European country... denounced by Amnesty International and the UN Commission on Human Rights... since World War II".
It's worth also noting there are 25 protestors who have been charged in connection with the protests. They face charges under a law dredged up by the Berlusconi administration from the first half of last century in order to enable maximum sentences for things like smashing windows. If found guilty of these outdated 'devastation and looting' charges, they face up to eight to fifteen years in jail.
As the Italian election approaches, some hope that the Diaz and Bolzaneto trials will continue putting pressure upon the right and far right. Certainly there are many who would like to see senior politicians called to give evidence - many people believe the police would not have acted as they did, if they did not think their actions were sanctioned at the highest level. One glimmer of hope is that Romano Prodi has said if he wins the election, he will reopen a full parliamentary enquiry into the events of the raid and subsequent treatment of the victims, although being a politician I doubt many would place too much faith in him.
With all the talk of Italian elections I'm reminded that many of the British witnesses reserve a special kind of scorn for Tony Blair. It was Blair that immediately following the Genoa protests and the Diaz raid refused to criticise the Italian police for their conduct, standing 'shoulder to shoulder' with Berlusconi. "To criticise the Italian police and the Italian authorities... is, to me, to turn the world upside down," said Blair. When challenged by Europe Minister Peter Hain who criticised the policing as "over the top", Blair again reiterated that he thought the Italian police had done a good job. It should also be remembered that the UK Foreign Office was also painfully slow to swing into action as British nationals lay in hospital on the critical list and others were tortured in Bolzaneto. The British embassy in Rome and the consulate in Genoa were informed of the Diaz raid just hours after it had happened. One British man spent hours on the phone immediately after the raid trying to make them understand the severity of what had happened, reporting that at least one British man was feared dead and that others had been arrested and taken away. He said they seemed sceptical. This chimes with complaints made by Robert and Carol Moth, the parents of Richard Moth who was one of the British beaten and arrested during the raid.
Then of course there's the shameful so-called 'journalism' that came from The Daily Mail and their writer Lucy Morris. On Monday 23rd July 2001 The Daily Mail ran with the front-page headline "Armed Guard On Britain Who Led Rioters" referring to Indymedia UK volunteer Mark Covell. The newspaper was deluged with complaints after it's disgusting article, and criticisms of Lucy Morris who had mysteriously gained access to Covell's hospital bedside, and the other Daily Mail journalists who visited his mother in her home back in the UK. It's a clear reminder of how shoddy some journalists can be and the gutter level depths that the media sometimes sinks to. It took three and a half years for the Daily Mail to finally issue a letter of apology to Covell.
Further hope of justice comes from news that the specific case of charges against police officers for the assault and attempted murder of Mark Covell is to be re-opened by the prosecutor. After four and a half years and with justice seeming tantalisingly close, many people are now keeping their fingers crossed.
As a final footnote it's worth repeating what one Indymedia UK volunteer said while he was back in Genoa after giving evidence:
"You have to remember it's not just Genoa. These types of repressions have been seen at all kinds of large protests. Before Genoa the police shot three people in Gothenburg during the EU Summit demonstrations. In Barcelona when the World Bank meeting was cancelled several mainstream media TV crews filmed plain clothes police agent provocateurs getting out of a police van, and then causing a situation that the police then used to attack the main crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets. Similar incidents were seen in Prague. In fact at Prague for the IMF / World bank meeting in 2000 there were many beatings, prisoners were tortured and abused, one even leapt out of a window because she was too afraid to face another interrogation. But the mainstream media didn't cover that. Genoa was big. Huge. So big it was impossible for the media to not report some of the truth."
"At the Thessonaliki EU protests in 2003 the police tried to frame Simon Chapman from the UK, planting petrol bombs on him. Simon along with several others endured multiple beatings before starting a hunger strike to protest their innocence. They remained on hunger strike for between seven and nine weeks. The false charges were finally dropped 8 months after their illegal arrests. It was a hell of an ordeal for them. Then in Geneva for the Evian G8 summit in 2004 the UK activist Martin Shaw was almost killed when a police officer cut the climbing rope he was suspended from. Martin fell over 60ft. Now the court case is ongoing; in fact the police are back in court in a few weeks time. On that same day in Geneva the photographer and Indymedia UK volunteer Guy Smallman had the back of his leg blown off as the police fired concussion grenades directly at him. The Indymedia centre there in Geneva was also stormed by riot police with gas and concussion grenades. The list goes on."
"But these are just the better-known cases that happen in the glare of the international spotlight, and that's not even mentioning the things that have happend in the US or beyond. Things like this happen all the time. On a smaller level, day in, day out. There are people going through these experiences without the support structures you get with big campaigns. It's a responsibility we all have, to fight these injustices, where ever they happen."
BACKGROUND LINKS AND REPORTS
Supporto Legale (english pages)
Italy Indymedia Genoa Pages
Genoa Justice Campaign
The Committee for Truth and Justice for Genoa
Recent IMC Reports and Interviews (January 2006):
The Genova G8 Diaz trial - Chilean night
Reports from the first week of British witnesses
Indymedia Global Feature on first British witnesses
Personal report of Genoa 2001 G8 trials starting in Italia recently (Hamish Campbell)
Genova G8 Diaz Trial interviews - Sam Buchanan (New Zealand)
Genova G8 Diaz Trial interviews - Mark Covell (UK)
Genova G8 Diaz Trial interviews - Hamish Campbell (UK)
Other Recent Media Coverage:
BBC : Witnesses recall bloody G8 police raid (11th Jan)
Written by Diaz witness BBC reporter Bill Hayton
More 4 News Video (Law and disorder?)
List of British Witnesss Who Gave Evidence and Dates:
Bill Hayton - BBC Journalist
Hamish Campbell - Undercurrents Film Maker + IMC Volunteer
(original statement http://weblog.genoajustice.org/stories.php?story=02/06/30/5250477)
(original statement http://weblog.genoajustice.org/stories.php?story=02/06/30/5788587)
Sam Buchanan (NB from New Zealand)
(original statement http://weblog.genoajustice.org/stories.php?story=02/06/30/5979189)
Mark Covell, Journalist + IMC Volunteer
David Jones, Photojournalist + IMC Volunteer
Aubonne Bridge Solidarity (Evian G8)
DIAZ TRIAL - WITNESS TESTIMONIES BEGIN - OCTOBER / NOV 2005
Genoa G8, Diaz: Testimony from first prosecution witness launches trial
Various Media Coverage:
Indymedia Radio London Audio Item:
DIAZ TRIAL STARTS - Press Statement- Diaz victims group - APRIL 2005
Indymedia UK Feature
G8: Genoa: Police on Trial for Brutal Diaz Raid
Now, the reckoning
Guardian January 22, 2005
Rachel Shabi and John Hooper
G8: Amnesty International Statement Re Genoa Police Trials
Inhuman And Degrading Treatment" Of Bolzaneto G8
ORIGINAL REPORTING OF GENOA 2001
Horrific Raid at GSF / IMC Account
Indymedia Genoa Newsblast - IMC Compilation Reports:
Collected Diaz Raid Reports (various sources)
PGA reports page
PGA pictures page