Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus

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Relatives of Rebibbia prison's inmates face police after inmates staged a protest against new coronavirus containment measures, in Rome, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP)
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Inmates' relatives gather to protest measures including a ban on family visits, as part of new rules introduced to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, outside the Secondigliano prison in Naples on March 9, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus

  • Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over the health crisis
  • Rights campaigners warned of mass revolts over the new measures, and families gathered outside prisons to protest at the restrictions

MILAN: Prisoners took to the roof of a Milan jail Monday as part of a string of violent country-wide protests against coronavirus measures, in which six convicts have died.
In another incident, around 50 inmates broke out of jail in the southern city of Foggia, and about 20 were still on the run after their fellow convicts were caught, Italian media reported.
Jails have been ordered to stop all visits and limit day releases.
Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over the health crisis.
Rights campaigners warned of mass revolts over the new measures, and families gathered outside prisons to protest at the restrictions — and to get news of their loved ones.

Around a dozen prisoners at the San Vittore prison in Milan managed to climb onto the roof of one of the wings and shouted slogans as police and prison guards below looked on.
It was the second day of unrest, with at least 23 jails — from Venice and Milan in the north, to Rome, Naples and Bari in the south — protesting over measures aimed at preventing the virus entering the prison system.
Six inmates died during or following clashes at Sant’Anna jail in the city of Modena in northern Italy, according to prisoner rights group Antigone.
Three died in Modena, while the other three died after being transferred from there to jails in Parma, Alessandria and Verona, Italian news agency ANSA said.
It said there were reports that the prisoners had broken into a medical center in the Modena jail and had overdosed.
Authorities in Modena would not immediately confirm the reports.
Domenico Pianese, head of the police union Coisp, said the mass revolts looked planned and warned that the mafia could be behind such “an evident strategy to try to take advantage of the difficulties caused by the coronavirus.”
At San Vittore, prisoners covering their faces with scarves or bandanas perched precariously on the slanted roof tiles. Fellow inmates could be seen massed around the barred windows at the jail in the Italian capital.
Relatives rallied outside many of the concerned jails in protest over the measures, including a ban on family visits.
“We’re urging inmates and relatives to stop violent protests, as they could spark others,” Antigone’s Andrea Oleandri said.
“The situation could rapidly deteriorate.”
Prisoners, who get most of their information from televisions, tended to protest in solidarity if they saw convicts in other jails rioting, Oleandri said.
Family members desperate for news of their loved ones had to be held off by prison guards at the entrance to the Modena jail, as ambulances and prison vans came and went, an AFP photographer said.
“This rumpus, this ‘war’ happened because the inmates hadn’t been given any information about what was going on outside, and visits had been suspended,” said Gilberto, the father of one prisoner who did not want to give his last name.
“No-one’s telling us who’s died, who is injured, or why they died and why they were injured,” the 59-year-old told AFP.
Italy’s prisons are suffering from overcrowding, with over 61,000 inmates locked up in spaces designed to hold just 51,000.
The country has been hard hit by the virus — with 366 fatalities so far — and the government has imposed draconian measures to stop it spreading further, including placing large swathes of the north under lockdown.
As well as halting visits and limiting day releases, all prison staff are supposed to have their temperatures checked on arrival each day. Medical checks for incoming inmates have also been ramped up, Antigone said.
“The prisoners are worried the virus will get into jail and spread,” Oleandri said.
“They are in confined spaces. There are usually two or three people in a 12-meter square cell. And while visits have been suspended, there are still lots of people coming and going,” he said.
Antigone has called for more inmates with only a short time left to serve to be allowed to do so at home, reducing the numbers behind bars.
Amnesty International Italy said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and stressed that the “critical hygienic-sanitary conditions” in jails demanded the utmost precautions be taken to limit the risk of contagion.


‘Disturbing’ allegations of rape in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: UN

Updated 22 January 2021

‘Disturbing’ allegations of rape in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: UN

  • A UN representative said she was greatly concerned by serious allegations from the northern region

ADDIS ABABA: The UN says it has received “disturbing” reports of sexual violence and abuse in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region, including of individuals forced to rape members of their own family.
Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said she was greatly concerned by serious allegations from the northern region, including “a high number of alleged rapes” in the Tigrayan capital Mekele.
“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” Patten said in a statement Thursday.
“Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.”
Patten called on all parties involved in the hostilities to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, announced military operations in Tigray in early November, saying they came in response to attacks by the regional ruling party on federal army camps.
Abiy declared victory after federal forces entered the regional capital in late November, though leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) remain on the run and have vowed to fight on.
Thousands have died in the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group, though a communications blackout and media and humanitarian access restrictions have made it difficult to assess the situation on the ground.
In her statement Thursday, Patten noted that “medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict.”
She called for full humanitarian access to Tigray, including camps for displaced people “and refugee camps where new arrivals have allegedly reported cases of sexual violence.”
She voiced concern about “more than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the area of Shire living in dire conditions, many of them reportedly sleeping in an open field with no water or food, as well as the more than 59,000 Ethiopians who have fled the country into neighboring Sudan.”
The caretaker administration in Tigray did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month state television broadcast footage of a meeting during which an unidentified man in a military uniform expressed concern about rapes in Mekele.
“Why are women being raped in Mekele city?” the man said.
“It wouldn’t be shocking had it been happening during the war, because it is not manageable so it could be expected. But at this moment while federal police and local police are back in town, it is still happening.”