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Inside a Genoa Prison

Beatings, Abuse and Retinal Scans

by Jonathan Norman Blair

I declare that this is a true and honest statement which I have written on Friday 27th July 2001. I permit it to be used by other individuals and agencies who support me and all the other people arrested at the Scolastico A. Diaz and surrounding area on the night of Saturday 21st July 2001. I state that I wish to sue the Italian police for illegal arrest, kidnapping and torture and I ask for support in doing this. Please contact me via e-mail.

I went to Genoa to participate in the mass demonstrations against the G8 and its policies. I went because I believe in a free and equal society with people living in harmony with each other and the ecological system. I flew out with my friend Dan McQuillan on Tuesday 17th July (our return flight was on Monday 23rd July) on Ryan Air from Stansted to Genoa.

On Saturday night we were staying at the Scolastico A. Diaz. The school was having renovation work done on it but as far as I was aware, it was legally occupied and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. It was directly opposite the media centre and the Genoa Social Forum administrative base. It was a big building with several floors, old with high ceilings. Through the front doors was a large hallway. On the left was a ramp leading up to a line of computers. To the left of that were stairs leading to the first floor where Dan and I were staying. The room we stayed in had a window view onto the courtyard at the front of the school and was directly opposite the media centre with a narrow road in-between. I went to bed about 12 o’clock on Saturday night. Staying in the room was Dan and a guy from New Zealand who I now know to be Sam Buchanan. I was dozing off and then I suddenly heard a crashing, roaring sound coming from outside. I quickly got out of my sleeping bag and looked out of the window. I saw a mass of police made up of squads from various cities (I know this from the documents that the judge gave me when I was released) filling the street outside. One of my memories was of the police with shields charging down the street followed by 2 police vans. There were people in the street shouting and screaming. It was a nightmare of sound. I presume that this is the point that Mark Covell (another UK national) was critically injured by the police as he was crossing the street. I began rapidly putting my clothes on and looked out of the window again. I saw the police van ram the school gates. We began to push our bags into the corner of the room hoping that if they came along the scaffolding that the police wouldn’t see us. I heard people screaming in pain from downstairs.

It took about a few minutes before the police smashed down the door to our room. They smashed our door down and had a large searchlight, which they shone into the room. As soon as they saw us they were on us. There was maybe about a dozen of them, it was complete chaos. Dan was completely battered by them all down his left side, he had his wrist broken and he had blows to the head. Sam was battered over the head three times. When I met him in the prison afterwards, he said that each time he was hit that it was like in a cartoon book as he saw stars and sparkles from the force of the blows. I received blows while we were on the floor and have bruises, but nothing in comparison with the others.

I don’t know how long this lasted, maybe just a couple of minutes, maybe a bit longer. I could feel the venom and hatred from them. They eventually left the room and as we lay there in a pool of blood they threw some of the window frames and other furniture on top of us. It was as if they were the destroy squad and then a minute or so later came the ‘retrieval’ squad.

They told us to get out of the room and as we went down the stairs the police were lined up and were hitting us with their batons. It was as if they had gone berserk and they were getting in each others way trying to get to us. We moved down the ramp into the main hall area. We were told to get on the floor and had to lie kneeling on the floor, head down and arms stretched out in front.

At one point someone who I assume had been badly beaten up outside was brought into the hall on a stretcher. This lasted about maybe 15-20 minutes (it was difficult to tell the passage of time in this situation) till the medical workers and ambulances arrived. Dan was bleeding heavily. The ambulance crew arrived and began ripping up cardboard boxes to make splints as they did not have enough equipment to deal with the number of broken bones. Of the 93 people arrested, over 60 went to hospital and remember, this was not for minor injuries but for broken bones and head trauma. One man was completely battered down his back and did not go to hospital. Dan was put on an ambulance trolley and I was holding his hand and helping him. I demanded to go with Dan to the ambulance because he was in such a state and could not speak Italian. The police were reluctant to let me leave but the paramedics insisted.

With them we made our way to the ambulance outside. As we were leaving the building, the police tried to rip a money belt off Dan. I unclipped it so they wouldn’t hurt Dan further. One cop began flicking through the money belt and we haven’t seen it since. It contained Dan’s passport, at least one credit card and several hundred pounds of English and Italian money. We were taken to the Galliera (?) Hospital, in Genoa. In the ambulance the crew were really friendly to us, in the hospital with police around they were not. It felt like a police state with police in complete command. I sat in the waiting room while Dan was being treated. I felt terrified. I saw a pay phone and had a phone card on me. I rang my girlfriend Mel and another friend about Saturday 1.10am British time. I left a message that we had been attacked and that I was OK but Dan was in a hospital badly injured. When trying to make a third call I was stopped by a police officer. The people taken to hospital had fairly serious injuries and had to sit on chairs waiting. The police had taken over the hospital. As I understand it people with such traumas (eg head injuries) should be under medical observation for 24 hours. There was a group of about a dozen of us in the hallway, under police guard. They then started moving us to a police van. I had to sit on the floor for the journey. Dan was also in the van. We were driven to a holding centre called Bolzenato (I was told later by other prisoners. I am not sure if this is the correct spelling or name). It did not appear to be an official police station or prison. It was a place of a terror and fear. On getting out of the van the first thing we had to do was to put our hands up and face the wall with legs apart (in a spread-eagled position). The police were kicking our feet apart if they thought that our feet were too close together. One police officer who kicked my legs looked about 18 years old (I was old enough to be his father!). We were made to face the wall in this position and there was a row of us. A police officer came behind me and speaking English in an Italian accent said ‘who is your government’. The person before me in the row had answered ‘Polizei’, so I said the same. I was afraid of being beaten.

I think at this point they took our names and addresses. They then took us to a cell. The cell was quite large with a high ceiling, heavily barred windows and high doors. We were told to sit down with our backs against the wall. People in the cell, especially young people were crying a lot of the time. They were traumatised. I tried to lock inside myself, stay calm and strong. At one point we had to stand with our hands against the wall, arms up for an hour and 15 minutes with police screaming abuse at us. For all I knew there was a police officer behind me with a truncheon ready to beat me across the back. There were different voices screaming abuse, I was lucky I didn’t understand Italian. My hands and arms went dead, I felt strange sensations in my palms. It was helpful to me to meditate, to focus my mind. It was physically hard to keep that position for even a short length of time. Dan with a broken wrist and head injuries also had to do this. The cell itself was freezing, the floor had ceramic tiles and it was cold even in the daytime. I had on a cotton shirt and jeans only. Dan was wearing shorts and a thin shirt, he did manage to get a sleeping bag, I can’t remember how, but we all shared it.

At one point the police took Dan out of the cell. We didn’t know what was going to happen to him. Later on I heard this woman shouting ‘please help me, please help me’ over and over. This was torture, it was psychological and physical warfare. The torture consisted of:

? Physical abuse (blows etc) ? Sleep deprivation ? Having to endure cold temperatures with no protection ? Food and water deprivation ? Refusal to have any access to outside world ? Forced into spreadeagled position ? Verbal abuse ? Extreme intimidation (eg people disappearing and then screams start)

Anyone in there who looked punk or scruffy was getting a really hard time. There was an American guy in there in his 30s, I saw his back on Tuesday and he was completely battered, all over his back. He’d said that when the school was raided he was beaten on his back. Every time they beat him they cut some more of his dreadlocks off till they’d cut all his locks off.

A woman said that when she was attacked by the police (at the school), they cut off a lump of her hair (and her appearance was very straight). It felt like they were taking trophies. A man said that he was beaten on the back when he had his arms up. I was hit in the face when the police were strip searching me, it was an open-handed blow. Dan said it was important to scream when the police hit you in order to deflect them from beating you further. The most threatening police officers there we called the ‘grey monsters’. They were enormous, similar to bouncers. They had grey uniforms, body armour, and big boots. Whenever you had to go to the toilet, a police officer (sometimes a ‘grey monster’, sometimes another type of officer) would ‘escort’ you by holding the flesh at the back of the neck and walking you so you were bent over, sometimes almost bent over double. You were unable to see anything or know who else was there.

With at least two of the cells, they hung sheets over the doors so you could not see inside at all. I remember seeing one cell through the corner of my eye with I think two people inside with their arms up the walls. It was scary. I was held in these conditions from about 5 am Sunday morning till 6 am Monday morning, about 24 hours. Later I found that other people were held for longer. During this time we suffered sleep deprivation. Groups of police were standing at the door and at the window, shouting across the room, yelling and laughing. I saw Dan and another prisoner being spat on by police officers. The floor was freezing cold with no blankets. For the first six hour we had no food or water. About midday they brought us two very small biscuits each. Later on in the afternoon they gave us about dozen ham rolls which we shared between the fourteen of us. I would have thought that they knew many of us were vegetarian. We had to stand with our arms up facing the wall 3 or 4 times but there was no attempt to question us (although as far as I know, some prisoners might have been interrogated I just did not hear of this happening). They also kept counting us and asking our names frequently, which often seemed to be nothing more than a deliberate disruption. I had now been without sleep since Saturday morning (I had only just gone to bed when the police raided), by Monday night I was hallucinating and became very paranoid. Many people had similar experiences. One man did not know that he was even in Genoa, he was in such a state. Depriving people of sleep was a completely deliberate policy by the police. Every half an hour to an hour they would begin shouting and yelling. At no point were we allowed access to a lawyer. The police began processing people about 3am on Monday morning. I was photographed directly onto a laptop, and they also used an eye camera, presumably to take a retina scan and I was fingerprinted. I was asked to strip and squat. Eventually I was put into a cell on a bus and cuffed tightly to another prisoner. It was around 6 am when we in this bus (I believe that it was the first bus, the prisoners whose surname started early in the alphabet like mine) were taken to Pavia prison. As we were taken up the stairs into the prison I received a blow to my back by a prison officer in a dark section of the stairwell.

It was around maybe 9 am Monday morning that I was taken to a cell of my own. There was a mattress and blanket and thankfully it was warmer. It sounds odd but I was relieved to be in prison. At a later point I was taken to another cell. I was given pasta with meat in it, even though I had told the prison officer that I was vegetarian. Between coming into the prison on about 7 am Monday and leaving it at about 6pm Wednesday I had no exercise even though I requested it on many occasions. Dan managed to see a lawyer sometime on Tuesday. He bought back news of a 30,000 strong demonstration it Milan against the shooting and the beatings by the Italian police and the fact that there was massive opposition to this brutal repression. It was very encouraging for me, sometimes I believed that maybe we might have been forgotten about even though I knew that was not true.

He also managed to send out a telegram. I requested a lawyer and consulate access and to be able to send a telegram, I completed the relevant forms but was not granted any of my requests. It wasn’t until later on Tuesday about 6 pm that I received a telegram from my girlfriend Mel. On Wednesday morning Dan was taken off to the judge, as were many other prisoners. I started getting worried and I expected the worse, maybe that I would have serious charges brought against me and that I would be framed by the police. But later on Wednesday afternoon I was taken in front of the judge, who had arrived at the prison. There was a lawyer present from the Genoa Social Forum. I had to explain to the judge about the nature of the arrest, and whether I had any connections to the Black bloc. This interview took about 10 minutes. I was then taken back to my cell and then brought in front of the judge again after 15 minutes. The judge said the arrest was illegal and that there would be no charges made against me, and that I was free to go. I was released at about 6 pm on Wednesday evening into police detention. There were about 60-100 people protesting outside the police station gates, they stayed there till at least 4.45 am the next morning to clap and cheer as people were being released. That was fantastic and I know all the prisoners really appreciated that active solidarity. I was met by lawyers from the Genoa Social Forum and a lawyer called Marie Louisa. The Germans who were detained were deported to the German border. The Germans had a large escort of police to take them to the border. One Lithuanian guy had no money, passport or documents and the Lithuanian consulate were not contactable. I gave him some money and asked the lawyers to look after him.

Local people brought us food and clothes. The consulate staff were also there to meet us at the prison and they stayed with us all the time in the police station for which I am grateful. We were all released without charge, yet we have been banned from entering Italy for 5 years. But this is from an illegal arrest. The reason given was that I am ‘a danger to public order and security’. The lawyers made many protests against the imposed deportation order and we collectively protested against the it, however we were taken to a Milan airport and basically left there with no passports or money, all we had was a letter from the police. We had to pay for our own flights for our own deportation. Despite the fact that we were being deported by the Italian state, we had to each buy our own tickets costing ?230 each we arrived at Heathrow on Thursday morning.

In conclusion, it felt like the beginning of a police state, like how, for example, Pinochet seized power in Chile. There was no rule of law or any regard for constitutional rights. The police were genuinely the government.

But I do not blame Italian people for this, many Italian people gave me much solidarity and support I blame the Italian police and the Italian state for what happened and I call upon them to be bought to account for their completely unacceptable actions. I would like to end by saying that I am not intimidated or frightened by this police brutality. I am determined that the police and their political masters will not get away with this. There have been hundreds of thousands of people all around the world supporting us and opposing the G8. There is a huge push for change and I am proud to be part of it. CP

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