Kiwis Beaten And Detained In Genoa
NOTE: The authors of this report have requested to be identified only by their initials.
Our Experiences in Genoa
EN was detained for five hours by Carabinieri. JA was beaten by Carabinieri. This is our account.
We are two New Zealand students (age 20), who have been living and working in Hamburg (Germany) for the past several months. In September we leave Europe to study for one year in the United States of America as part of an Exchange-Scholarship programme through the University of Auckland (please do not publish for fear of jeapordising this). We have been politically active at home in student union circles and the Labour Party. We travelled to Genoa by bus with the international organisation, ATTAC (Acronym for the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transaction for the Aid of Citizens, see www.attac.org). ATTAC advocates for reforms to democratise the market and seeks to achieve this through non-violent demonstrations. ATTAC had planned a festival type demonstration at the edge of the red zone with music, puppet theatre and so on, as well as poetic intrusion of the red zone through small soap bubbles and balloons.
The Events in Genoa
We arrived in Genoa late Thursday and set up camp at the designated (and legal) campsite for German activists, located approximately 7km to the east of the red zone. On Friday morning we headed to the Convergence Centre (the base of the Genoa Social Forum) with other german activists. The atmosphere at the Convergence Centre was peaceful. From here the protests were set to leave. We moved of with the Globalise Resistance bloc (advocates for non-violent direct action) with the affinity group that we had formed on the bus. When the march arrived at the red zone, the protest stopped at the fence. Participants chanted slogans and stayed close up to the fence. Then, to our surprise and annoyance, four or five empty plastic bottles were thrown over the fence. Police replied with tear gas and water canons. Then police with batons and shields emerged from side streets and batoned demonstrators (we saw one protestor shortly thereafter with blood flowing from his head). At this point, the protest began to retreat and we moved to the back of the march. Along with two Hamburger students we made the decision to leave this protest and make our way to the nearby ATTAC assembly point, as this essentially non-violent protest had been met by such an extreme overreaction by the police.
As we attempted to make our way to the ATTAC site, we noticed that carabinieri with batons had blocked of all the streets leading away from this protest. Therefore, there was no opportunity to leave the demonstration if one wanted no part of it. The four of us were left with no option but to walk up some stairs near the downtown police station to a lookout point over the city. Here there was some media and we could see black clouds of smoke arising from approximately two kilometres to the east. These later turned out to be rubbish bins and cars set alight by the black bloc. From here we could also see the police blockades making it impossible to leave the inner city.
We then met a group of five or six other activists wearing ATTAC t-shirts and moved of in the direction of the ATTAC site, now only 750metres away (but out of sight). Halfway there at Piazza Alessi we were crossing over the round about and had begun walking up a side street as Carabinieri wagons at full speed, with sirens blaring drove past in the direction of the globalised resistance protest. This strenghened our desire to move to the ATTAC site. Note that, on this side street leading to the ATTAC site (now only 200 metres away), there was no demonstration or protest only between ten and twenty people leisurely (not in a block) walking along the road. At this moment several Carabinieri vehicles were approaching, this time loaded with police with batons and shields and one policeman on each vehicle pointing with a plastic bullet gun through the roof. In panic at the site of the gun (not sure what it was loaded with at this point), we ran to get out of the line of fire. At this point we were split up and what follows are our two accounts.
EN, female, 20 years old.
into a street on the right at first opportunity to get out
of the line of fire. It turned out to be a dead end.
Before I could move six to eight Carabinieri jumped out of
their vehicle seven metres from where I and another
Hamburger student (female, SB) and several others were
trapped. We all raised our hands above our heads to
indicate that we offered no resistance. This was to no
avail. The carabinieri batoned the man next to me over the
head and shouted at me and threatened me also with a raised
baton. I was hit around the head once with a bare hand and
shoved into the carabinieri wagon. I had seen SB fall to
the ground. She was struck with a baton on her back and
kicked in the stomach. She was then also herded into the
wagon and sat next to me. All around us the beatings were
continuing and five young males were also loaded into the
police wagon. All put up no resistance, all were already
bleeding from there injuries. Now one Carabinieri was
sitting in the boot and regularly using his baton to beat
the males in the back row on the head. The men were already
completely subdued, in one case crying. On either side of
SB and myself, carabinieri kept coming at the two men in the
van with their batons and hit them in the stomach and across
The carabinieri appeared at a loss at what to do with us now and drove about fifty metres before stopping again and searching one of the people in the wagon. As it looked as though the Globalise Resistance bloc was coming in our direction, our van sped off to the downtown police station. Here we were herded out of the police van in front of the station where some journalists were. Because of the journalists we were loaded back into the van and taken around the back.
Inside the police station we were taken to a small room and made to face the wall. SB and I on one side and the guys on the other side. The atmosphere was frightening. There were countless number of police and they seemd to be in an extremely aggressive frame of mind. SB and I heard batons striking the guys. Then our bags were emptied (tipped upside down). I heard a loud smashing and saw parts of my camera fly across the room. Then other cameras, mobile phones, watches etc. were smashed violently by the carabinieri. We feared what was coming for us. Then they collected our documents. I did not have a passport as my partner JA had these in a money belt around his waist. SB and I were allowed to sit down and turn around. The guys were still facing the wall. Police were coming in and out of the room menacingly with their batons. The broken stuff on the floor was swept into a corner and everything was put into a rubbish bag. My scarf, camera, bread, nutella, spoon and pieces of paper were thrown away. A civilian doctor now came in to see if we needed medical attention. The guys were attended to one by one.
At no point were we told what was happening, whether we were under arrest etc. About twenty minutes later we heard commotion down the hall. Screams and the sound of a baton connecting with something. A guy, probably not more than seventeen years old was herded into our room and thrown into the corner. One policeman went at him with his baton and knocked him on his head several times, although this young man was cowering in the corner and whimpering in fear.
A few minutes later all of us who were originally in the van together were taken out the back of the station and loaded into police cars. Here we sat for at least another ten minutes. It was frightening because police were walking past shouting at us through the windows aggresively. We then drove at high speed away from the station to the suburb Bolzaneto, where they had converted a carabinieri base into a prison. As we drove through the gates, we saw maybe a hundred men there wearing plastic gloves and an entire surgical team. We were scared, wondering what they had in store for us. SB and I were led to a cell and made to stand facing the wall with our hands against the wall. We were searched again by a female officer, including under our bras. We were not allowed to sit down but had to keep standing facing the wall with our hands on the wall. About half an hour later I was taken to another room to establish my identity. Fingerprints, photos, retina scas checks were done and through a database they were able to establish that I was who I said I was and had no previous convictions. I was then led back to my cell. At this point I asked to go to the toilet and was allowed to. Back at the cell, SB was no longer there. She was brought back some time later, having also been finger printed etc. We asked again for a lawyer and were refused, saying “you do not need one”. We asked whether we were under arrest and received no answer. I asked to call JA but was again refused.
Eventually we were allowed to sit down. SB asked to speak to the doctor because she needed to get hold of her medication (she suffers from cardiac insufficiency). The police doctor was not sympathethic to her request. As we were sitting in our cell, we saw other protestors being led past. Some were being hit as they were being led up the corridor, most were injured in some way. One young male was hit repeatedly with a baton on the head along the full length of the corridor. The noises were excruciating.
Three more women were to join us in our jail. One woman had a broken arm. She had been at the NGO protest, located about 3km away from the red zone where there were hunger striking nuns and groups like Oxfam. She said police had come with batons and she had tried to protect her head with her arm and the force of the baton broke it. She had avoided being detained initially and went to a hospital, where she received x-rays and was told it needed to be operated. At the hospital the police picked her up and brought her to the prison, despite her need for medical attention. Another woman in our cell was suffering from concussion after being repeatedly batoned around the head. She had also been at the NGO protest and was also detained at the hospital. The third woman, an Italian woman, had been detained in a bar. The police had sprayed tear gas into the bar and she been batoned across the nose. The concussed woman and the woman with the broken arm asked to speak to the police doctor. He told the concussed woman, through the prison door that he would not do anything for her until she vomitted. He would not even speak to the woman with the broken arm.
Two hours had passed and I needed to go toilet again. I asked and was initially refused on the basis that I had been two hours previously. I asked again and was eventually allowed. This time they left the door open and watched me urinate.
We still could not get a lawyer or receive any information about why were being detained. Sometime later SB was called out of the cell. Then I was called. I was presented with four documents in Italian and told that if I signed them I would be released. I asked for a translation and a police officer gave me a cursory statement of what it allegedly said. With not much choice, I signed the document (I have a copy) and was released. In total I had been detained for just under five hours. SB was waiting for me outside the prison gates. I was in trouble. JA had my passport and money. I had explained this to the police and they had said “this is your problem”. A somewhat more sympathetic police officer had told me that there was chaos in Genoa, that there had been deaths and that we should leave town immediately. SB had some money and we walked to the next bus stop and from there managed to catch a bus and then trains to Milan. Our attempts to make contact with JA or others at the german camp failed for 24 hours and we were stuck without my passport, sufficient money or SB’s medication.
I want to
also draw attention to the fact that it was impossible to
mistake us for black bloc members. I am 160cm tall, weigh
50kg and am of dimunitive stature. I had my long black hair
tied up in a pony tail and was wearing a white t-shirt and
gray pants. SB is of a similar build and has blond hair.
The other people in our police van were all slightly
overweight males, dressed in shorts and t-shirts. None were
wearing facial masks or clad only in black.
Similarly the other people brought to the police and prison, also did not look like blac bloc members. Most were dressed like us.
I saw a police vehicle with a policeman mounted on top. Everyone started running in fear of the gun. I followed the people in front of me, who turned down a driveway. At this point my path diverged from EN, and I stopped to call after her. I heard 2 gun shots, (it was later confirmed to me by an eye witness that these were plastic or rubber bullets). I turned around to see a policeman running towards me and shouting. Not sure what to do, I raised my hands and then lay face down on the ground to signify my lack of resistance. I was then beaten on the back with a baton. From shock I arose and ran into the corner of the driveway, a dead end, where the others where huddling against a concrete wall. There were 5-7 people there excluding myself. Two policemen beat us with batons, I received at least 2 baton blows to my head and numerous other blows on other parts of my body. The others all received similar treatement. At no point did anyone offer any resistance. The two policemen then turned their attention to another man who was huddling in the opposite corner. Although he was offering no resistance he was beaten by both officers simultaneously for up to a minute. People were crying and someone was whimpering “please”. This seemed to infuriate one of the officers, who mimicked the cry of “please” and then pointed a gun at us, shouting. The two police proceeded to beat us again, I was kicked in the bottom. The police then left, and we made our way to the Attac convergence point. Less than 100 metres away.
It is inconceivable to me that any of the people could have been mistaken for violent protesters. Several people were wearing white attac t-shirts, an explicitly pacifist group. Another wore a white t-shirt and jeans, and I wore a short sleeved shirt and shorts. No one was wearing face masks, or any of the standard uniform of the black bloc.
Human Rights Violations
The point that we want to highlight in this statement is the grave violation of basic human rights that occurred in Genoa. In our case, the following rights were violated:
- Freedom of movement
- Freedom of political opinion/expression
- Freedom from arbitrary detention
- Basic rights (eg., toilet incident, injuries)
- Right to medical treatment (see lack of medical attention to people in prison eg., broken arm, concussion).
In our opinion, in Genoa the activities black bloc were used to excuse police repression of a wide spectrum of peaceful protestors. In the media, it was then possible to portray any injured or detained person as having been a black bloc participant. Those detained or attacked were in most cases peaceful demonstrators. The violence in our case was entirely unprovoked, no resistance was offered to it, it was completely one sided.
We also dispute the official police numbers as to injured and arrested people. Injuries were widespread, most were never reported for fear of being detained at the hospital. JA has waited to seek medical attention until his return to Hamburg, as has SB. In our estimates thousands of people were detained, just as EN was.
The events in Genoa were for us a horrific experiences. The lack of regard for human rights and blatant police brutality, were completely at odds with principal that should be enshrined in a democratic nation.