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Italy Seethes over Brazil's Extradition Refusal

Cesare BattistiItalians are still debating a controversial decision of the Brazilian government [en] to guarantee political asylum to convicted felon Cesare Battisti, [en] in spite of an extradition request by the Italian foreign ministry.

The decision to grant asylum is currently being considered by Brazil's Supremo Tribunal Federal. In Italy, Battisti was tried and sentenced in absentia to life in prison for a series of crimes, including murder, committed in Italy in the late 1970's as a member of the far-left armed group Armed Proletarians for Communism [it].

Battisti escaped from prison in Italy in 1981. He then fled to France, where he started a family and became a novelist. In 2002, he reached Brazil, allegedly with the help of the French secret service [it]. Five years later, in 2007, he was arrested in Rio de Janeiro for entering the country with a fake passport, and is now imprisoned in Brasilia.

A fugitive of justice?

In Italy, the case has been a top story in most news media the past two weeks, and the local cybersphere is engulfed in heated discussions. Most Italian netizens seem to favor an extradition of Battisti [it] and strongly criticize Brazil's decision.

On a group blog, Atomo del Male, “il gorgonauta” writes [it]:

Un rifugiato politico secondo wikipedia [it] è chi è fuggito o è stato espulso a causa di discriminazioni politiche, religiose o razziali dal proprio Paese e trova ospitalità in un Paese straniero. Peccato che questa definizione non calzi molto alla situazione attuale: uccidere un macellaio o un poliziotto è un delitto politico? Una rapina è politica? Battisti è stato condannato per degli omicidi o delle opinioni? E l’Italia lo vuole per discriminarlo politicamente o per eseguire un condanna? Ma forse in Brasile hanno una giustizia tutta loro e l’imbelle ministro vive in mondo tutto suo.

According to wikipedia [it], a political refugee is someone who fled or has been expelled because of political, faith or race reasons from his own country and finds hospitality in a foreign country. Too bad that such a definition does not apply much to the current situation: killing a butcher or a police officer is a political crime? Is a robbery a political action? Has Battisti been sentenced for his killings or his opinions? Maybe in Brazil they have their own idea of justice, and this coward minister lives in his own world.

In his blog, Gery Palazzotto argues [it] that any intellectuals defending Battisti as someone of their own league are misguided:

Il terrorismo ha fatto in Italia [it] quasi 350 morti e circa 750 feriti (cifre dell’Associazione vittime del terrorismo). Le pallottole sono di piombo e, anche se accompagnate da una citazione filosofica, da una frase di Bernard-Henri Lévy o da una semplice preghiera, generalmente uccidono. Gli ideali non sono né giubbotto antiproiettile né lasciapassare.

Italy's terrorism years [en] killed almost 350 people and injured about 750 people (according to the Terrorism Victim Association). Those bullets were made out of lead, even if accompanied by a philosophical statement, a quote of Bernard-Henri Lévy or a simple prayer, they nevertheless killed people. No ideal can be disguised as a bullet-proof vest or a free pass.

Kicking blame to France too

Several people also express criticism of France's past behaviour. After learning that Battisti in a recent letter wrote [it], “French intelligence helped me flee to South America,” Il Jester points a finger at both French and Brazilian governments [it], because they both:

…permettono e hanno permesso che un assassino resti libero e si goda la vita come premio per quel che ha fatto e causato: morte e dolore. Vorrei proprio che Mr. Lula e Sarkozy spiegassero (…) a chi ha sofferto la scomparsa insensata dei loro cari: “I vostri compianti sono morti per causa di un ideale politico di un uomo. Lui non ne ha colpa. (…)”
Una vergogna! E l’Italia non solo non dovrebbe giocare la partita con un Brasile che ha davvero poco di amichevole, ma dovrebbe persino protestare sonoramente contro una Francia che si è sempre rivelata poco amica del nostro Paese (…).

… enable and enabled a killer to remain free and enjoy life as a reward for what he did and produced: death and pain. I'd really like to see Mr. Lula and Sarkozy explain (…) to those who suffered the senseless death of their relatives something like: “Your dearest are dead due to the political ideal of a certain man. He is not guilty though…”
What a disgrace! And Italy should not even play a soccer game with a Brazil that shows very little friendship, but should instead file strong protests against France too, for failing to be a friend of our country…

The blogger refers here to a friendly soccer match between Italy and Brazil, scheduled for February 10 in London. Some major newspapers have held instant polls on this topic: “Should we play against Brazil?”, with a majority (59-62%) still answering “yes”, while the Italian defense minister Ignazio La Russa [en] proposed a public boycott of the game – thus stirring more harsh debate.

Few defend Battisti online

There are around 40 groups supporting an extradition of Battisti on Facebook and the most popular – “Cesare Battisti must come back to Italy to serve his life sentence” [it] (Cesare Battisti deve tornare in Italia per scontare l’ergastolo) has more than 20,000 members.

Of the only two groups advocating for his freedom, “Freedom for Cesare Battisti” [it] (Libertà per Cesare Battisti) blames the media for exploiting his case:

Crediamo si tratti dell'ennesimo capro espiatorio, del mostro (creato da pennivendoli e strumenti di disinformazione) da dare in pasto per placare la sete di giustizia. A qualcuno ovviamente fa comodo che gli italiani, invece di indignarsi per le ingiustizie sofferte quotidianamente, ingiustizie di natura economica e sociale, si indignino per fatti di 30 anni fa, che non hanno nessun impatto sulla loro esistenza.

We believe this is another scapegoat, another ‘monster’ (created by cheap journalists and disinformation strategies) to be thrown to people in order to appease their thirst for justice. Obviously someone prefers that Italians, instead of being outraged over today's injustice of economic and social nature, get outraged for events that happened 30 years ago, and have no impact on their current daily life.

Similarly, Titus, from the Selvas blog [it], believes this episode is being used by the (center-right) Italian government as “an amazing mass distraction weapon” from the economic crisis, while another blog devoted to literature and counter-information, Carmilla On Line [it], posted a very detailed FAQ on Battisti's case [it]. One of these answers states reasons that his trial was not fair, including the alleged use of torture tactics to extract confessions.

In his blog Panni di piombo [it], another former member of an armed group, Mario Ferrandi, highlights a similar case but with Italy in the opposite role:

Il “nostro Cesare Battisti” è uruguayano, anche se da qualche anno ha la nazionalità italiana. Si chiama Jorge Troccoli. (…) È stato capitano dei Fucilieri Navali dell’Uruguay, ed è accusato di aver fatto sparire un numero imprecisato di persone nel suo Paese tra il 1975 e il 1983. Tra questi sei cittadini italiani. Il governo Berlusconi, nel settembre scorso, ha respinto la sua richiesta di estradizione.

‘Our Cesare Battisti’ is from Uruguay, even if a few years ago he obtained the Italian citizenship. His name is Jorge Troccoli. (…) He was a Navy Rifle Unit in Uruguay and is being accused of involvement in the disappearing of a certain number of people in his own country between 1975 and 1983, including six Italian citizens. Last September, the Berlusconi government rejected his extradition request.

Global Voices also has Brazilian blogger responses to Italy's extradition request.

UPDATE (02/05): Yesterday Brazil's Supremo Tribunal Federal ruled [it] that Battisti's current status as ‘political refugee’ does not stop nor prevent the extradition procedure request. Essentially, nothing has changed: judges and politicians have opposing opinions, but ultimately the decision is in the hands of the Brazilian government.

This post was co-authored by Stefano Ignone.

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