Inquiry into Algerians with mouth taped shut on Rome plane

Controversy in Italy after image posted on the web

19 April, 16:39

(ANSAmed) - ROME, APRIL 19 - The Court of Civitavecchia has opened a case into the incident of two Algerian immigrants deported on an Alitalia Rome-Tunis flight last Tuesday, during which their mouths were scotch-taped. The incident has sparked harsh criticism in Italy.

The inquiry has not yet put any individuals under investigation for the time being nor have any criminal charges been filed. The incident was reported by the well-known film director Francesco Sperandeo, who was on the flight and took a photo with his cell phone, to later post it on his Facebook profile leading to its spread over the web.

The image shows two men seated at the back of the plane, their hands tied with plastic handcuffs and their mouths taped with packaging tape, plus a protective mask over their faces. The complaints made their way even into parliament, with the Chamber of Deputies Speaker Gianfranco Fini asking the government to address the matter "with the utmost urgency". Speaking of the incident, the head of police Antonio Manganelli asked the border police officers at Fiumicino airport - where the immigrants had departed - to submit a report. The two men appear to be Algerian and made a stop-over in Rome on a Tunis-Istanbul flight.

Arriving in Fiumicino on the morning of April 15, they appear to have refused to board the plane for Turkey twice. At that point the Italian authorities initiated refoulement procedures, which meant they were to be returned to the place from which they came come, Tunis. The decision to put a protective mask taped onto their faces seems to have come from the passengers themselves, say the police. The immigrants were in fact trying to bite their lips, causing them to bleed, and then trying to spit the blood at the other passengers and thus avoid being embarked on the flight.

In the photo it is evident though that the tape is not over the mask but over the man's mouth. According to claims from the Judiciary Court, such a treatment is "unconstitutional" and whoever committed the act could be found guilty of abuse of authority and violence against others.

"This is the culture and democracy of Europe," wrote Sperandeo in his Facebook post, pointing out that "everything took place with the utter indifference of the passengers". Following his complaints, he received the reply that it happened to be a normal police procedure.

There have been protests in parliament coming from several parties, with the president of the Democratic Party Rosy Bindi speaking of "shameful images which we would like not to ever seen" and of "unacceptable treatment". Surprise was expressed by the Italian spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Laura Boldrini: repatriating people is "sometimes difficult", she admitted, because the people involved "put up every kind of resistance". UNHCR, said Boldrini, is not contrary in principle to deportation, because "a person who enters irregularly and doesn't request asylum must be repatriated by law. It is important, though, that the way and manner of repatriation is in line with the dignity of the person." (ANSAmed).

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