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Hunger strikes against the solitary confinement of anarchist prisoner Alfredo Cospito in Italy

Alfredo Cospito, an Italian anarchist militant, has been on a hunger strike for more than a month in protest against the solitary confinement he has been subjected to since May. So far, three other prisoners have joined the strike in solidarity with him.

From the newspaper El Salto Diario, an article by Pedro Castrillo (30/11/2022).

Originally published by Autonomies.

Movements reduced to a few square meters for 22 hours a day, with only two hours allowed outdoors. Almost non-existent contacts with the outside world: a maximum of one one-hour visit per month through a separation glass and an intercom; prohibition of receiving any type of object, with the exception of clothing, and a tight control of correspondence, with systematic confiscations. Added to this is the prohibition of participation in any prison activity, collective or individual, and the complete exclusion from any rehabilitation or social reintegration program. Alfredo Cospito, an anarchist militant in prison since 2014, has lived for almost seven months in the 41-bis regime, a “jail in jail” equivalent to the FIES Regime of Spanish prisons, designed to combat the mafia, but which is increasingly applied to prisoners accused of political crimes.

On October 20, Alfredo began a hunger strike to protest what many voices—from inside and outside state institutions—denounce as real legal torture. Alfredo has already lost more than 20 kilos and his state of health is increasingly delicate.

The 41-bis regime: from the mafia to the anarchist movement

The conditions in which Alfredo Cospito currently lives are established in article 41-bis of the Italian Penal Code, which was approved in the heat of the mafia massacres perpetrated in 1992. On May 23 of that year, more than 500 kg of explosive cracked in two the A-29 motorway, as it passes through Capaci, on the outskirts of the metropolitan area of ??Palermo, killing judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three police officers. A few weeks later, on July 19, another bomb exploded in Via D’Amelio in the same city. On that occasion, the fatalities were the judge Paolo Borsellino and five of his bodyguards.

The following day, the socialist Carlo Martelli, then Minister of Justice, signed a decree establishing new restrictions on the prison regime for 37 prisoners accused of crimes related to the mafia. This document represented the unblocking of what would later become the 41-bis regime: a series of rules promoted months before by Falcone himself, which until then had not entered into force due to an internal debate regarding their extreme harshness and even their dubious constitutionality; a debate that has not come to an end even today and that has been reignited in recent months.

On paper, the objective of the 41-bis regime is to prevent the circulation of orders and other types of communications or messages between criminals who are in prison, and between them and the outside world. On the other hand, this prison regime has been used on several occasions —explicitly— to force the confession of mafia prisoners, which has been interpreted by many as a tacit recognition by state authorities of their condition of torture.

Alfredo Cospito’s story

The anarchist militant received his first sentence, of ten years and eight months in prison, in 2014, accused of having shot Roberto Adinolfi in the legs two years earlier, a method of intimidation popularized in the violent Italian 1970s. This attack on the CEO of the company Ansaldo Nucleare, which had become an exporter of nuclear power plants after the 1987 anti-nuclear referendum, was claimed at the time by the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front (FAI-FRI), a little-known insurrectionalist organisation that claimed to be based on mutual support between small cells or affinity groups. Despite its declared horizontal character, “free of authoritarian, associative and bureaucratic mechanisms”, the court that sentenced Alfredo Cospito considered him the “leader and organiser of an association with terrorist purposes”.

The conclusion of the Scripta Manent police operation added another act to Cospito’s accusation: the explosion caused in 2006 at a Carabinieri Cadet School in Fossano, not far from Turin, at night and without causing deaths or injuries. After his second sentence to twenty years in prison for “massacre against public safety”, the Court of Cassation later reclassified the accusation, making it a “massacre against State security”, an offense that provides for life imprisonment without the possibility of any reduction in prison time, even in the absence of a victim.

After more than nine years in prison, Alfredo was placed under the 41-bis regime. The motivations alleged by the then Minister of Justice of the Draghi government, Marta Cartabia — ultimately responsible for its application —, in agreement with the Anti-Mafia and Anti-Terrorism Attorney General, were that Cospito “[was] able to maintain contacts with representatives still at liberty of the subversive organisation to which he belong[ed]”, considering — according to the decree signed by the minister — that the “[said] subversive association […] was still operative in the territory and was presumably dedicated to the perpetration of serious crimes”. Alfredo’s contacts abroad consisted mainly of personal letters and articles that were published on various counter-information websites.

Legal defense and solidarity

On December 1, the Rome Surveillance Court will respond to the demand of Alfredo’s lawyers, who ask that he be returned to the normal prison regime. The final decision will depend on the current Minister of Justice, Carlo Nordio, who since the establishment of the Meloni government has worked in the opposite direction towards greater penal rigour for prisoners. Alfredo’s defence considers that Minister Cartabia was wrong when she alleged that her client maintained contacts with the Informal Anarchist Federation, and this simply because “that organisation no longer exists, or perhaps never existed.” In addition, Alfredo’s defence has repeatedly denounced that the crime of which he is accused “was not applied even to the perpetrators of the attacks that ended the lives of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.”

In contrast to the slowness of state justice, acts of solidarity with Alfredo have not been long in coming. Only a few days after Alfredo began a hunger strike, he was followed by Juan Antonio Sorroche Fernández, an anarchist militant of Spanish origin, sentenced to 28 years in prison and to a fine 30,000 Euros in compensation after being accused of attacking, without causing injuries, a local headquarters of the Northern League in August 2018. On November 25, after exactly one month, Juan interrupted his hunger strike. Subsequently, two other anarchist prisoners went on a hunger strike — the only form of non-violent protest for those who find themselves in jail — in solidarity with Alfredo Cospito: on October 27, Ivan Alocco, a prisoner in a French jail, and on Anna Beniamino, imprisoned in the Roman prison of Rebibbia.

For months now, different groups and collectives, not only anarchist, in Italy and in many other countries have expressed their solidarity with Alfredo Cospito and have denounced the regime to which he is being subjected. In Italy, especially in recent weeks, actions and gestures of denunciation have multiplied: dozens of demonstrations and rallies, interruption of religious services and shows in large theatres, attacks on the headquarters and warehouses of large companies and government parties, publication of communications and articles. More than 200 criminal lawyers and jurists have signed a statement to denounce the absurdity, from a judicial point of view, of Alfredo’s situation. A parliamentary commission on the subject has even been convened, although it has not yet reached any conclusion. All these reactions have not prevented the story of Alfredo Cospito from being essentially absent from the mainstream media, beyond his being profiled as an anarchist-terrorist.

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