Civil disobedience actions in Italy

Thank you Chairman,

I have the task of reporting on the civil disobedience actions which we organised in Italy in decades of political activity.

You will find in your folder the time-map of the main non-violent civil disobedience actions which began in the Sixties and have continued to the present.

The essential point of non-violent civil disobedience action is that it cannot be performed out of sight, but must be done in public – the police and the mass communications media must be informed before the initiative.

This action is aimed at applying the laws considered unjust, the application of which is, in itself, truly scandalous.

I won’t recall all the civil disobedience actions, but I believe it is important to consider the fact of how the Italian Judges have behaved differently in connection with these actions organised by the Radicals and by Marco Pannella in particular.

And yet we’ve always done the same thing: from 1995 to the present, our civil disobedience actions have always entailed handing out hashish or marijuana to people we called with our means to gather in the streets.

In applying the law currently in force, the police have always behaved in the same way, whereas the Judges have issued differing sentences.

If we examine the first of these non-violent initiatives, that is the handing out of Hashish or Marijuana by Marco Pannella and others in 1995, we note that the Court of Cassation passed a sentence on Marco Pannella – thus a definitive sentence – of four months’ imprisonment, which were converted into eight months of ‘controlled liberty’.

Now its rather difficult to control Pannella, so much so that he has no intention of doing eight months like this, because what ‘controlled liberty’ means to Marco Pannella is going to sign everyday at his local police station.

This is what Marco Pannella said: “I won’t do eight months in this way – I prefer four months in jail in the radical manner and I shall specify when and where they will arrest me. For the time being, I shall stay in what technically speaking, is not an absconding state”.

In fact, we often see him going around inside the European Parliament.

So there it is: Marco Pannella was condemned for non-violent action committed in 1995.

We too, that is I, along with Benedetto della Vedova, Mimmo Pinto and Paolo Vigevano, are being prosecuted for that initiative.

We were condemned, and appeal lead to a four months sentence, and the final sentence of the Court of Cassation will be issued on 7th November 2002.

Marco Pannella took part in another hashish hand-out initiative in Piazza Navona on 28 December 1995: on that occasion Marco Pannella – I don’t know why – was dressed up as Santa Claus, and was acquitted on the 12th February of this year because the offence was considered non-indictable.

In the trial court, when he was condemned to a light sentence of 2 months and 20 days, the non-serious nature of the offence was recognised because the act was committed for reasons of particular social value.

We shall now mention another civil disobedience action, the most astounding one in terms of media, and I should remind you that these actions, above all, serve to also stimulate and open the debate between opposing standpoints and opinions.

On 28 December 1995, during RAI TV’s live television broadcast entitled “Italia in Diretta” on the state television channel (RAI), Marco Pannella decided to hand out a lump of hashish weighing two hectograms.

After a number of vicissitudes, Pannella was acquitted on 18 June 2001.

So we first of all had the sentences and now two acquittals.

Then there were the trials.

The one in Milan has come to an end; it was decided not to proceed as no crime existed.

There were trails for which the appeal date has not yet been fixed, concerning the events in Piazza Navona in 1997. But in these cases too, different sentences were passed at various levels of courts: in one case three months with quite heavy fines, in another case two months.

Then we come to the sentences – not as yet final – concerning the three consecutive demonstrations in Corso principale of Rome. We called this the maxi-trial because 30 people took part in it and some of the witnesses came from other nations and held responsible positions, for example, radical co-ordination of anti-prohibitionism.

In this case, the criminal sentence was converted into extremely heavy fines, ranging from six and a half to eight million old lire.

There have been other civil disobedience actions.

For example, I wish to stress the action I personally undertook in Genoa in year 2000 when I gave a piece of hashish costing 60,000 lire to Giancarlo Caselli, the Judge. Well, to obtain a trial, which will be heard two years later on the 22 October 2002, I had to publicly repeat that if they had not proceeded to incriminate me, I would have reported them for failure to perform their duties of office.

It took two years, otherwise it would all have led to nothing, they would have allowed things to pass, also because they didn’t like the idea of summoning Mr. Giancarlo Caselli to a court room and they therefore tried to avoid it.

Other initiatives are under way: I can tell you that next Friday we will undertake another action, similar to the one we organised in Pistoia.

But what is really worrying can be evinced in some news items we have gathered - items which can be seen very day in all Italian newspapers.

This news collection confirms the different attitudes of the police and Judges toward those who have been ‘nabbed’ and describes the danger and suffering leading to suicide which very many young people can arrive at. All this refers to an action which we do not consider to be a criminal offence – like smoking a joint – but which leads these youngsters to be caught by the police, thrown in jail and resort to suicide.

Let us be aware that there are four million consumers of hashish and marijuana in Italy – that’s an extremely high percentage.

Why do the police hunt for small consumers and small dealers?

We’ve got to say this quite frankly: if the market has to supply four million people, a distribution network is necessary and is, therefore, created.

What is dangerous is that this network does not just distribute hashish and marijuana, but, as press reports testify, the network also supplies other types of drugs, such as heroin and coke, which are physically much more dangerous.

Therefore, these four million consumers become the means whereby to ‘do business’ because heavier drugs are sometimes distributed.

The former chief of the Rome drugs squad, Mr. Francesco Di Maio – the person who came to arrest us at our demonstrations – at a certain point decided to resign, issuing a rational statement at the time “I, the chief of the drugs squad, cannot spend each day pursing small dealers or consumers, because for the purpose of my career and the efficiency of my actions, what counts is not the quantity of substances I’ve seized, and therefore not if I’ve succeeded in finding the big dealer, but the total number of actions I have undertaken”.

Francesco di Maio said this was intolerable and, therefore, he resigned from his post as chief of the drugs squad of the Rome Police Station; he is now doing another job and the fact is that he has become a sympathiser of our theses and of what we are trying to do.

These civil disobedience demonstrations which try to create a scandal through our arrests and trials, are really meant to spark off a debate which is impossible in Italy.

I realise that this probably does not happen just in Italy, but rather that it is difficult to have a discussion among opposing options more or less all over the world.

We are trying to arrive at this kind of debate by provoking scandals.

Moreover, we are facing a true scourge: 37% of Italian prisoners are there for breach of art.73 of the Italian Civil Code of ’90, the Sole Text for Drug Laws, which we modified through the referendum of 1993.

Now, in 2002, 15 thousand out of about 56 thousand of these prisoners – almost 27% - are heroin addicts who need treatment they are not receiving, with the risk of transmitting diseases as many are HIV positive.

We know that 1,500 are HIV positive because they have submitted themselves to tests, but we also know that only a minority of prisoners accepts undergoing the test.

We are therefore talking about a scourge.

We feel it is our duty to intervene and ask for the laws to be modified.

I think, that if non-drugs, i.e. hashish and marijuana, were legalised, this would reduce the damage.

I do not consider it to be an anti-prohibitionism battle that is going to affect the market, but a minimum initiative to legalise in order to reduce the damage that prohibitionism causes today on these substances.

I’d like to read you these news reports.

In Italy you risk going to prison for cultivating a marijuana plant on your balcony because art.73 is very clear on the matter: it talks of “cultivation” and one plant is considered as cultivation.

What we’re talking about here is a scourge, of young people committing suicide.

The last case was mentioned to us by Francesco Argonauta, one of our militants in Piemonte.

A boy in a small Piemonte town, where he was responsible for a pro-loco, that is a meeting centre for boys and girls – who was always admired by everyone because he was very good at creating cultural events of some importance in a place that was not particularly lively – was caught with a few grams of hashish and put on trial.

On a very sad afternoon, the decided to go to the sport field where he hung himself because he could not bear the fact that he was considered to be a criminal.

The laws in force are criminal and criminogenous laws.

That’s why we have to do our best to abolish them.

The fact that the International Anti-prohibitionism League has been set up fills us with hope, especially in Italy.

Thanks to the Vatican, in the early 70s we were forced to go abroad to have an abortion, or to marry in order to divorce, vice-versa we had to go to the Vatican State to annul marriages through the Sacred Rota.

It was all lawful inside the State, but you couldn’t do it in Italy.

If the law on assisted procreation and heterologous fecundation is approved – these are prohibitionist laws – we will, at the most, be forced to go to London if we want a child.

In view of the fact that any scientific experimentation on embryos will soon be prohibited in Italy, we will be forced to be cured abroad.

But the truth is that we’d prefer to stay in Italy and therefore we would ask those who govern and administer us to be a little more reasonable as regards the life of citizens.

Thank you.

Rita Bernardini, Joint-Chairwoman of the Italian Radicals

(Text not revised by the author)