Human rights - Italy : Enzo Tortora


"Single issue" booklet for the XXXV Congress of The Radical Party

On May 17, 1983, Enzo Tortora, Italy's most famous television personality was arrested. The public was regaled with his hand-cuffed image on the Italian State television channel and the front pages of the newspapers. The accusation -association with the mafia and drug dealers to corrupt the press- lacked any proof and was based only on the declarations of interested parties, several criminals, so-called "pentiti", who with the complicity of the magistrates, were trying to get out of prison. The same night with a single mandate for capture, 856 people were arrested all over Italy... and of these, about a hundred with the same name. Then began one of the greatest and most unfounded investigations in judicial history. Tortora, a great favourite with the Italian public, was held up as a guarantee of the seriousness and importance of the investigation and the attempt to control organised crime. "If they arrested him, he must be guilty of something", was the doubt that, in spite of two acquittals, had remained in people's minds - and Tortora was never to be cleared of this infamous suspicion. A year after his arrest, in terrible psychological and physical condition, Tortora accepted to be a candidate in the Radical Party's lists, and five thousand Italians elected him to the European Parliament. He became the banner and the symbol of a wide-scale campaign for a just justice in a country in which the most outrageous judicial practices prevailed: the maxi-trials in which people were first arrested and then proof of their guilt was searched for, the blind use of the word of the "pentiti" without verification, the systematic violation of secret investigations by magistrates with the complicity of certain media and the contempt for the freedom and the identity of the individual. Once he was elected, Tortora renounced parliamentary immunity to permit the trial to take place. He received a first degree sentence of ten years imprisonment, resigned his position as a member of parliament and let himself be arrested, honouring an unjust sentence with an unprecedented gesture. He continued tirelessly, under house arrest, to fight for the rights of all those, who unknown and undefended, are the victims of the same judicial practices. Because of Tortora's own experience, the Radical Party promoted a popular referendum in Italy to decide whether the magistrates guilty of negligence should be held responsible for their deeds before other judges. In September 1986, more than three years after his arrest, the Court of Appeal of Naples fully acquitted Enzo Tortora. In 1987 the Supreme Court of Cassazione definitively affirmed Enzo Tortora's total innocence; and he started an action against those magistrates who had unjustly tried and sentenced him, for damages of one hundred billion lire to be spent on initiatives for justice. On November 7-8, after a dramatic and passionate campaign of referendums, Italian citizens were called to vote and 80% voted "yes" to the direct civil responsibility of magistrates. A tumultuous result and a great triumph which the parties overturned in April 1988, with a parliamentary bill. Meanwhile the news broke that Enzo Tortora had cancer. He himself informed the press. Suffering from the illness which was destroying him but unresigned, he made an appeal to public opinion, to the men of the parties and the prison populations to mobilise themselves with the Radical Party against the betrayal of public will. He died on May 18, 1988, entrusting to the Radical Party his proposal of a European Foundation for Justice to be called after him, and with the aim of rewarding in the world, each year, a person who had made both the major contribution to upholding the law and its administration, the so-called "justice", and the victim who would have managed not to be conniving and who would have honoured the human values of justice and freedom, defending them without submission, or easy individual satisfaction.