Jailed anarchist’s hunger strike exposes Italy’s harsh isolation regime

thefreeonline on 7th Jan 2023 by thecollective from Courthouse News via anarchistnews.org 3 comments

We create the anarchy we’d like to see in the world

alfredo cospito chilling with an anarchist cat

(Photo courtesy of Cospito family via Courthouse News Service). The inmate is among nearly 750 people in Italy — most of them mafia gangsters — who have been cut off for years from communicating with the outside world.

Italian authorities put Alfredo Cospito into its tough prison system of isolation in 2022 after designating him an anarchist terrorist.

(CN) — Inside a maximum-security prison on the island of Sardinia, a 55-year-old militant Italian anarchist is on hunger strike: He says he’d rather die than live the rest of his life locked away under Italy’s harsh system of isolating inmates considered so dangerous to society they need to be cut off from communicating with the outside world.

Alfredo Cospito’s hunger strike — in its 77th day on Wednesday — is renewing a thorny debate over the legality of Italian laws that permit the state to almost entirely seal off imprisoned leaders of criminal organizations and terrorist groups from contact with the world beyond the prison walls.

Cospito’s case is gathering some support, especially on the political left, because his history of criminal activity as a militant anarchist is less violent than that of others languishing inside Italy’s regime of extreme isolation.

For weeks, there have been sporadic acts of protest and vandalism in support of Cospito. Anarchists have marched in Italian cities, spray-painted city walls, smashed bank machines and windows in Rome, and strung up protest banners equating Cospito’s imprisonment to torture. Banners have shown up dangling from towering construction cranes, outside a prison and down the side of a building at the prestigious Sapienza University of Rome.

On Dec. 2, a firebomb destroyed the car of an Italian embassy official in Athens, Greece, in an attack linked to Greek anarchists angry over Cospito’s imprisonment.

And his case has become a topic in Italian media, sparking clashing opinions over whether this regime of isolation — one of the most extreme in the European Union — is an inhumane form of punishment.

Roma, manifestazione per Alfredo Cospito:

In 2012, Cospito shot Roberto Adinolfi, the chief administrator of Ansaldo Nucleare, an Italian nuclear energy company, in the leg with a pistol. Cospito declared in court that he shot Adinolfi to protest the development of nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

A previous attack was subsequently linked to Cospito: the 2006 detonation of explosives outside a police academy in Fossano, a town in Piedmont in northern Italy. No one was injured in that late-night explosion.

Last April, Italy’s high court ruled that the jailed Cospito had acted as a chief instigator of anarchist terrorist activity communicating with fellow anarchists through books, articles, online writings and comments while serving prison sentences inside the high-security prison in Bancali, Sardinia.

Authorities accused him of acting as a leader of a militant anarchist group with links outside Italy known as the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front. This collective of “insurrectionary anarchists” was viewed as a growing threat in a 2014 report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the American military academy.

By branding him a leader of the anarchist movement, Italian authorities ordered Cospito into total isolation, cutting off his contact with the outside world. He joined Italy’s notorious and savage mafia bosses in the most secluded corner of the country’s prison system.

Flavio Rossi Albertini, the anarchist’s lawyer, said that by going on hunger strike Cospito is “basically saying a more courageous Italian state would have gotten rid of him sooner by shooting him in the back, killing him outright, instead of subjecting him to this condition.”

These harsh detention laws — known by the shorthand “41 bis,” a reference to the number of the corresponding article in Italy’s penal code — go back to 1975, an era of violent political turbulence, but are most often associated with Italy’s fight against the Sicilian mafia in the 1990s.

Under this prison regime, some 743 figures of the Italian underworld are locked away in near-total isolation and forbidden most communication with the outside world. Many of these gangsters have spent up to 30 years in isolation.

At regular intervals, the status of inmates in isolation is reevaluated, but it is rare for detainees in the 41 bis regime to be placed back into the general prison population, Albertini said.

Italian authorities, jurists and mafia experts argue that only by isolating mafia bosses can chains of command be broken and the activities of criminal groups contained. The harsh conditions have also led criminals to break their code of silence and become informants.

Critics, though, contend the harsh conditions of the 41 bis system — commonly called simply “hard prison” — amount to torture, trample on prisoners’ human rights and stand in violation of the Italian Constitution, which requires the state to rehabilitate prisoners.

Italy’s Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to queries from Courthouse News about this special prison regime.

In 2002, Italy further codified the 41 bis system into the law and expanded its use against members of terrorist groups.

Cospito is the first and only anarchist to be placed into isolation, Albertini said. Prior to him, three members of the New Red Brigade, a paramilitary communist group, were cast into 41 bis system. They were accused in the assassination of two professors involved in liberalizing labor laws in Italy. The professors were shot dead in 1999 and 2002.

The Italian penal system has room to put 750 inmates in extreme isolation and 749 of these cells are occupied, Albertini said.

It’s called “hard prison” for good reason.

These inmates are allowed to leave their cells and go outside for just two hours a day, though when they are let out they are surrounded by walls more than 20 feet high.

Inside their small cells, they are given a bed, table and one chair, which is fixed to the floor. Inmates are largely forbidden from possessing personal items, even books, and they are under surveillance 24 hours a day. Contact with prison wardens is extremely limited, as is communication with family members and lawyers.

They are allowed to socialize for one hour a day only with the three other inmates inside the same 41 bis block. In Cospito’s case, the other inmates in his area have been in isolation for nearly three decades, Albertini said. One of those inmates doesn’t leave his cell any more; another one is forbidden from leaving his cell during the day; and developing a relationship with the third inmate is difficult because he suffers from psychological problems, Albertini said.

“These individuals are walled in alive and buried with this system of detention; they have no chance of having relations with the outside ever again,” Albertini said in a telephone interview.

With his hunger strike, according to his lawyer, Cospito is saying: “This is no longer living; faced with the prospect of living so many more years in prison under this condition, it’s better to end my life now.”

Albertini said Cospito wants to expose the harsh conditions imposed on 41 bis inmates and for this reason he’s drinking water and taking a Vitamin B supplement to prolong his hunger strike as long as possible.

Since he started his protest on Oct. 20, Cospito has lost 77 pounds in weight, he said. “The state of his health is beginning to become critical.”

Albertini argued for leniency toward Cospito because his relationship with fellow anarchists cannot be compared to how hierarchical organizations such as the mafia and the Red Brigades function. He said the Informal Anarchist Federation is without a command structure and that it is far-fetched to compare Cospito to a mafia boss or Red Brigade militant.

“It’s well known that anarchists are not inclined to like organizations, most of all top-down organizations,” Albertini said.

As the lawyer sees it, Cospito’s imprisonment under the 41 bis regime is really about silencing him as a political voice.

“Applying the 41 bis regime to Cospito is about shutting him up, but this was not supposed to be the purpose of 41 bis,” Albertini said. “Without doubt, he is a political prisoner.”

Albertini said Cospito initially was sentenced to 20 years in prison for detonating the explosives at the police academy. But after his case reached Italy’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Cassation, it was reclassified in July 2021 as a “massacre against the security of the state,” a crime that carries a life sentence.

“In other words, the most serious crime in our judicial order,” Albertini said.

He called that sentence a miscarriage of justice.

“Think about it: In Fossano, 500 grams of gunpowder were used — the kind of amount usually used for New Year’s fireworks” shows, Albertini said about Cospito’s conviction for attacking the carabinieri training academy.

By comparison, the mafia used 350 kilograms of TNT to kill Giovanni Falcone, a Sicilian magistrate investigating the mafia, when his convoy of cars was blown up in 1992 outside Palermo. The magistrate’s wife and three police officers escorting him were also killed in the blast.

That attack and another bombing that killed Falcone’s colleague, fellow Sicilian magistrate Paolo Borsellino, and five police officers led the Italian parliament to pass laws to lock up mafiosi in the 41 bis regime.

Cospito has received some attention in the media and support from legal scholars, but Albertini argued that support for his client remains a taboo because of his anarchism.

The lawyer criticized Amnesty International for not speaking out against his detention in isolation. Amnesty International did not immediately respond to a query from Courthouse News.

Albertini also faulted the European Court of Human Rights for past rulings that found fault with the system but did not call for its banishment.

The Strasbourg court has examined the 41 bis system in several cases and ruled that it does not amount to torture even when it has been imposed for lengthy periods of time.

Italy’s Constitutional Court also has upheld the 41 bis regime though it has tinkered with how it operates, for instance giving inmates more time to talk with their lawyers and allowing prisoners in 41 bis blocks exchange among themselves items such as soap, sugar and coffee.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union. Follow @https://twitter.com/cainburdeau

Tags:  Alfredo Cospito hunger strike MSM

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Comments

best to comment at anarchist news HERE

this may be msm but at least

Submitted by anon 11:21 (not verified) on Fri, 01/06/2023 – 11:18

this may be msm but at least the author knows there is a difference between anarchists, communists & mafiosi.

I wouldn’t call this MSM

Submitted by aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa… (not verified) on Fri, 01/06/2023 – 11:40

I wouldn’t call this MSM though, it’s pretty niche publication, but still I think you underestimate the MSM that the article referes to. There have also been positive article on this hunger strike in la Repubblica, even one by PD Senator Luigi Manconi.
Good article though, regardless.

fair enough. i’m in the us

Submitted by anon 11:21 (not verified) on Fri, 01/06/2023 – 12:51

fair enough. i’m in the us tho, where msm can’t tell a fascist from a communist from an anarchist …

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30th November: Day of Action in Solidarity with Alfredo and other Comrades on Hunger Strike

#AlfredoCospito #AnarchistPrisoners #HungerStrikehttps://t.co/730lcwOPc7 pic.twitter.com/T1Rs9h6YI5— Abolition Media (@abol_media) November 25, 2022

In international news, November saw a lot of energy and action around the ongoing hunger strike of Italian anarchist prisoner Alfredo Cospito.

November 30th was called as a day of action in solidarity with Alfredo and other hunger striking prisoners, and there’s a call to extend that into a week of action lasting until December 5th, when Alfredo and his co-defendant Anna Beniamino, who is also on hunger strike, will appear in court…. Anna Beniamino | prisonersolidarity.com

Alfredo and Anna’s hunger strike, against the incredibly harsh “41 bis” prison regime, has been joined by others, including Italian anarchist prisoner Juan Sorroche Fernandez, French anarchist prisoner Ivan Alocco, and an intermittent strike by UK anarchist prisoner Toby Shone.

You can listen to a short audio interview about the hunger strike, here.

International actions in support of the hunger strikers have included a banner drop outside the Barton jail in Hamilton, Canada, and a truck arson in Milwaukie, Oregon, USA.

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Author: thefreeonline

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