27 May 2011

Lampedusa: Winny’s husband beaten by the police

His story touched many Italians some weeks ago, when his wife Winny, a 23 year old Dutch lady, told the story of how she came to Lampedusa to take her 29 year old husband back. The two of them had met a year ago on the island of Kos, in Greece: Nizar was an entertainer for tourists, Winny was on holiday. It was love at first sight, followed by a quick wedding which was celebrated on the island, on 26th last September. Then the couple moved to Tunisia. When the first troubles started, Winny was forced to leave the country whilst her husband remained behind, so he decided in the end to board on a boat to Lampedusa. But the dream of their love story turned into a nightmare. Yesterday Nizar was beaten up by the financial police at the reception centre of Lampedusa, and was then arrested. He was the only one who was picked up after the violent scuffles amongst the captive Tunisians and the security forces had ended up in a brutal beating. A beating that had been expected. We had been talking about this for days. We had noticed that the tension in the reception centre of Lampedusa, which had actually been transformed into a detention centre since May 2, was rising in a worrying way. And that the umpteenth riot would soon break out. And that’s what happened.

There had been growing unrest since the morning, when those withheld in the Africans’ section were transferred to the port in order to board a ship that would take them to the reception centres on the peninsula. But the spark that inflamed the spirits was caused by the removal of some journalists who had come close to the centre during the afternoon to take some pictures.

They were invited to leave. And when the detainees saw the scene, they broke out into a noisy protest. Some of them climbed on the roofs, others wrote “Freedom” on some placards and all of them together sang the slogan “Help! Freedom!”. Following that, all together, they tried to break through the gate of the building’s enclosure, except that the security officers were already on the other side in riot gear, ready to charge.

Heavy scuffles followed, during which also a car was damaged. At the end of the clashes, there were injured people both among the financial police as well as among the captives. A policeman was wounded on the nose after being hit in the face by a stone that had ricocheted. According to an initial reconstruction by the security forces, the one who cast the stone was in fact Nizar. This affront cost him a real beating. Two eyewitnesses confirmed this to us.

Yesterday, actually, Nizar too was there at the forefront of the protest, probably thinking of his wife and of their child she bears in her womb, who has been waiting for him for three weeks on the other side of the gate. Also some detainees say they saw him throwing some objects against the officers. But this doesn’t explain such brutality against him.

He was surrounded by the policemen and beaten with truncheons, kicks and punches. “They took him away with a broken head, he had blood all over his face” a witness told us. None of the injured was beaten like him. Finally they took him in the offices of the security forces, where we don’t know what happened. This morning they came to pick up his few belongings from his room, and then took him away. It seems he was arrested. Fortunately he is assisted by a good lawyer who will keep us informed on his case.

In the meantime, there is no news regarding the next possible transfer of the Tunisians detained at Lampedusa. Which means that another riot like yesterday’s might be on its way. The tension remains high. The Interior Minister Maroni cannot expect that truncheons and tranquillizers will be enough to sedate the legitimate requests of freedom put forward by 200 young men who have been locked up in a cage for 25 days now, without having committed any crime. All this – we will not tire of repeating it - without a judge validating their detention, as requested by law! In a centre which was intended by law to be a reception centre, not a detention one. What are the members of parliament waiting for, instead of setting up an enquiry on the case? What are the lawyers waiting for, instead of appealing? What are Italians doing instead of supporting from the outside the protests of the detainees who are unjustly deprived of their freedom?

It’s also for this reason that we insist so much on these stories. Because we need a new vision. We need a country which is able to feel outrage for each person that ends up in detention for the crime of travelling. Indignez vous an old French man would say. For Nizar, for his wife, and for his child. Because it is not possible to have laws, in 2011, in Europe, that prevent a father from living next to the woman he loves and their child. Are we actually aware of all this institutional violence?

With our European Union red passport we can travel around the world and we are welcome everywhere. With a green Tunisian passport travelling is a crime. And once you arrive you have to live under the threat of being hunted down. One lives like the three guys who escaped two days ago from the detention centre of Chinisia (Trapani). Lost in the countryside around Trapani, they didn’t know what to do. One of them had injured himself while he was escaping, cutting himself on the barbed wire. But they were afraid of going to hospital. For fear of being arrested. So they called a friend of theirs in France. And by word of mouth we managed to put them in contact with some relatives in another city in Italy. There the young man will be treated and he will restart his journey.

Thanks to this other part of Italy. The part that doesn’t want detentions, the part that doesn’t push back and that doesn’t use the truncheons against those who ask for freedom. The part of Italy that welcomes. The part of Italy made up of volunteers and associations. A part of Italy which is under threat of extinction.

So, bon voyage to Chinisia’s three fugitives. Only one recommendation: don’t leave us alone with the Italians.

Translated by Alexandra D'Onofrio