Criminalization of the Roma people in Italy: two attacks in Rome spark off another witch hunt

by EveryOne Group

Rome, January, 2009: Following two episodes of attacks and rapes in Rome and Guidonia, the police are combing the Roma camps of Rome around the clock.

EveryOne Group: “The fact that there are those who exploit the victims’[i] suffering in order to carry out a campaign of racist and xenophobic propaganda arouses our indignation. It should lead the Italians to reflect on the moral barbarization that intolerance can bring about in a modern country”.

The police operations are very spectacular and are carried out with the use of helicopters, police dog units and armed men in uniform. The interventions are carried out both during the day and in the dead of night, causing serious problems for the Roma families. The operations foment racial hatred in the local people, who are often present at the police operations shouting insults and threats at the Roma and yelling at them to leave the country[ii].

During the police manhunt, the details of 500 Roma were taken, while 20 were arrested on charges that had nothing to do with the rapes. The local people, however, witness these “spectacular” arrests and the intolerance increases. In the meantime the politicians and the authorities sound the “rape alarm”, pointing their fingers at the Roma without any evidence to back it up.

A few hours after the media had given the news of the attack gangs of racists destroyed some makeshift shelters in the Primavalle Roma camp. The police immediately completed the operation and bulldozed the camp leaving 50 people homeless (including many sick people and 20 children). As always, their only sin was being Roma and happening to live near the scene of the attack.

January 27th, 2009 – police have arrested six Romanian citizens (who are not from the Roma ethnic group).
However, newspapers and TV news are continuing to blame the crime on the Roma, even if they belong to a different ethnic group from the arrested men. A furious crowd tried to lynch the arrested men, while all over Rome a series of violent acts are being carried out against the Roma. In this climate, Ministers and member of the Lega “Nord” party are fomenting this xenophobic wave by proposing chemical castration to “protect society”[iii].

Those responsible for the rape are not Roma, and the culprits’ responsibility, according to both Italian and international law, is individual. Extending the guilt to the whole of the Romanian population is a terrible abuse. We must also point out that in 2008 EveryOne received dramatic testimonies of rape that young Roma women suffered after they found themselves helpless in the hands of racists (especially in Northern Italy). These crimes took place after the police had cleared the settlements and taken their husbands to police headquarters - yet nobody has ever taken action against this “invisible” drama.

On the wave of the intolerance aroused by these cases, the institutions have announced the employment of 30,000 more soldiers to work alongside the police on the streets of the major cities[iv]. It is to be noted that already back in 2008 the Ministers of the Interior and Defence initiated a project to increase the number of soldiers in the cities to 30,000, investing a total of two billion euros a year. The Prime Minister defined the Roma, immigrants and the homeless “the evil army” and “the enemy” to be combated using these troops[v].

On January 25th, in the city of Guidonia where the rape took place, a group of about twenty Italian neo-Nazis (members of Forza Nuova) carried out acts of violence against immigrants and Roma[vi]. Four of them attacked immigrants from Eastern Europe.

There is a concrete possibility that someone is trying to raise the level of xenophobia to repeat the effect generated by the brutal Giovanna Reggiani murder - maybe by accusing innocent people from the Roma ethnic group of rape. It is a line of conduct went along with by the Neapolitan magistrates who recently sentenced a young Roma girl called Angelica to 3 years, 8 months’ imprisonment without any proof and on the mere evidence of an Italian mother who had accused her of trying to kidnap her baby. EveryOne had already demonstrated that the charge was unfounded at the time. Angelica’s lawyer has made an official protest against this unjust verdict[vii]

For some years now EveryOne Group has been monitoring the Roma settlements in Italy very carefully. It pays particular attention to the situation of the Roma families of Romanian origin who are being subjected to true policing and judicial persecution[viii] However, deliberately put-up cases against the Roma are not only confined to Romanians.[ix]

It is now obvious that organized racist groups are now at work in Italy. They have never been investigated by the police, they act, unfortunately, without any hindrance from the authorities and with the tacit support of the majority of the press and media. There have been no arrests or sentences following assaults on the Roma people, or the arson attacks on their makeshift shelters. And no action has been taken when on several occasions the members of EveryOne have reported, not only brutal assaults, but also orchestrated attempts to attribute to the Roma particularly hateful crimes capable of inciting public opinion and the media.

It is just as evident that a press and political campaign is underway aimed at criminalizing the Roma people by setting public opinion against them. This has allowed an appalling number of brutal camp clearances, intimidation, de jure and de facto expulsions of entire Roma families and judicial errors.[x]

For example, the case of the kidnapping of little Denise Pipitone, a crime constantly attributed to a hypothetical “gypsy” woman, in spite of all the evidence leading to Italian kidnappers; and the case of the “Roma racket” where, according to the Milanese authorities, children were forced through torture and threats to carry out thefts amounting to millions of euros every year. The truth of the matter was that they were children from families living in conditions of terrible hardship who were involved in petty theft[xi]

Then we have the “attempted kidnapping at Ponticelli”[xii] which led to young Angelica’s prison sentence: it was an authentic set-up, announced months before with the creation of an anti-Roma committee and the participation of members of the Camorra who had set their eyes on the land the Roma community were occupying.

Then again, the attempted child snatching in Catania[xiii], thanks to inquiries carried out by EveryOne, we were able to convince the authorities the charge was unfounded.

In the meantime in the large cities there have been cases of police officers beating up Roma citizens then making false and unfounded accusations against the victims. Typical cases were the assaults on Stelian Covaciu[xiv] and Anton Caldarar [xv] video. (whose story appears in a video on our website). EveryOne also demolished another absurd case, that of the so-called “gang of Roma women robbers”[xvi]

EveryOne Group has also pointed out how some of the particularly horrible crimes attributed to the Roma ethnic group seem to happen just before restrictive measures are taken (either by the government or local authorities) against the liberty of the Roma community. Measures carried out in order to facilitate the expulsion of Roma families from Italian soil. We remember the case of Giovanna Reggiani, which took place shortly before the approval of the Prodi government’s “security package”; the cases of Ponticelli and Catania, which took place before the Berlusconi government’s “security package”; the case of the Roma torturers and the child pickpockets at Milan’s Central Station during the “Sociality Pact” debate in Milan (resulting in an authentic racial law)[xvii]; and the case of the assault on two Dutch tourists by the Romanian shepherds Andrei Vasile and Paul Petre just before the visit from the European delegation to inspect the Roma settlements in Rome. And now, just after the European Commission has published its report condemning the institutional persecution of the Roma in Italy[xviii], here we have two gang assaults with violence and rape, which have already been attributed to the Roma community in the capital by the media. “Inhuman Violence. Police comb the Roma settlements,” writes ‘Il Corriere della Sera’. Italy has to answer for its xenophobic and racist actions to the European institutions, but now its operations appear justified by the “criminal and ferocious nature” of the Roma people.
Over the past few months the EveryOne activists have collected together the testimonies of Roma people who have been approached by Italians asking them to commit illegal or morally ambiguous actions. The coincidence of crimes ascribed to Roma citizens, the racist measures and the need to justify them, would lead us to suspect there is a real danger of deliberately set-up cases finalized at criminalizing the Roma ethnic group. The Giovanna Reggiani murder presents several disconcerting breaches and procedural flaws in the investigation, beginning with the fact that the authorities declared they had found blood on Mailat’s face and under Mrs Reggiani’s fingernails (after she had inflicted deep scratches on her assailant’s shoulders). No DNA results, however, were included in the legal proceedings in court and it appears that they have instead gone missing. The key witness, Emilia Neamtu (on whose testimony Mailat was sentenced to 29 years’ imprisonment) is an unreliable witness, suffering as she is from a serious psychotic illness. What is more, there are testimonies of strange contacts between some Italians and Romanian Roma in Rome shortly before the crime took place.

We are convinced that the investigation should be repeated in a more objective fashion. The same goes for the attempted kidnapping at Ponticelli, which led to a young Romanian girl, Angelica, being sentenced without proof. We now have reason to fear that the new series of attacks carried out in Rome - which have triggered off this new “witch hunt” – are part of the same plan.

The 29th January 2009 the four romanian confessed the rape[xix] and finally the auhtorities officially stated that they were not Roma people. However the initial accusations of a hypothetical “gang of Roma wearing balaclavas” spreaded racial hatred and provideed racism with an alibi. In fact such accusations have created abuses on Roma an Romanian People[xx]
We are therefore asking the European authorities to keep a close eye on the situation in Italy in order to prevent further abuse from the police and magistrates being carried out against the Roma people. We also ask for the present political and press campaign to be stopped as its aim is to criminalize the Roma ethnic group in Italy. EveryOne Group is also asking for new in-depth inquiries to be carried out into the Giovanna Reggiani murder (the key witness, Emilia Neamtu, has now returned to Romania where it is possible to talk to her without any pressure from the Italian authorities) and the Ponticelli case (Soccorso Legale Napoli is in possession of all the evidence that proves the innocence of the young Roma girl, and the judicial errors carried out in the legal procedure).

Let us remember that intolerant movements have often, throughout the course of history, attributed brutal and ferocious crimes to unwelcome minorities in order to justify their repression. It is no coincidence that in the years when the Nazi-Fascists were power Jews and gypsies were described as negative stereotypes whose rehabilitation was considered impossible.

[i] January 23rd, 2009. Young couple assaulted at night in their car just outside Rome. The young man was beaten up and locked in the car boot while his girlfriend was being raped.
EveryOne Groups wishes to express its solidarity to the victims of this attack, a couple who will never forget the tragedy of this crime. However, violence against women is an emergency that needs to be tackled on all levels, starting from schools. In spite of official figures showing that 99% of rapes take place within the home, that is it a brutal crime that often subjects the victims (often children and youngsters) to repeated violence, propaganda is still exploiting the events that involve (in theory) foreigners in order to spread racial hatred. Last year Amnesty International initiated a “violence at home” campaign in an attempt to prevent cases of rape and supply the public with correct information. However, this has proved ineffective against the propaganda from the politicians and media.




















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