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Letter from Alessandria prison, dated 28 July 2001


We have now been detained for a week in Alessandria prison. For days we didnít know on what grounds. On Thursday we were then told by a woman magistrate that we had committed certain offences during the protests in Genoa. There is no evidence for this - nor can there be any, as we are innocent. So far I have had no opportunity either to make a telephone call or to speak to a lawyer - only during the interview with the magistrate was a lawyer present, but this was of no use to me as I was unable to communicate with him. I have not even met D.R., counsel assigned to me. According to Austrian consular staff - they visited us and gave us some money - there are four lawyers working on our behalf. One of them, Embacher from Austria, is claimed to have been engaged for this purpose by the Green Party. Again according to the consulate, the lawyers have applied for us to be released. A decision on this application must be reached by 11 or 12 August. Should the ruling that we must remain here be confirmed, we might have to wait for up to six months before our trial. I for one simply cannot understand why we are locked up here. Life here is very monotonous. During our arrest and the next few hours afterwards we were treated very badly. Incidentally, I was never told that I was under arrest. Here in prison itís a bit better, but cerainly not exactly brilliant. Locked up and under guard the whole time, nothing to read, nothing to do. Yesterday, Saturday, having insisted for a long time, we were at last given a pen and paper. Even so, just one pen for two persons. At any rate, for the last few days Iíve been sharing a cell with ---. Three times a day we get something to eat - in the morning, rolls without butter and usually a bit of fruit, for lunch then something hot, and in the evening pasta. Often thereís nothing much for vegetarians, but weíve heard that tomorrow weíll be able to see a doctor and have vegetarian food "prescribed". I do wonder what will come of that. The cells themselves are very small, thereís a bunk bed, but neither a table nor a chair. In addition, each cell is furnished with a small lavatory and washbasin. The only time we are allowed to leave the cell is for a shower, exercise time and to see visitors - once so far, from the consulate. Oh, and for the remand hearing last Thursday.

The worst thing, in my view at any rate, is that as yet I have not been seen by any lawyer. That really has been everbody elseís experience too. Some of them were able to meet their lawyers for one or two minutes, but that surely doesnít allow for any detailed discussion. The consular staff certainly thought that not all of us might be able to see their lawyers, or indeed any lawyer, in the near future. I wonder. At any rate, according to the consulate the lawyers have applied for our transfer to Genoa. This would make it easier for them to visit us. In addition, the women arrested with us are likewise to be transferred to Genoa, the lawyers proposed. I have no idea how things are with them. Apparently we are all being charged with the same offences - 15 men here in Alessandria, and 10 women somewhere else in some other jail. Being informed that we were to remain in detention was a harsh blow for all of us, as far as I know. And somehow even inconceivable.

A further application allegedly filed by the lawyers was for us to be permitted to contact our relatives. As far as I know youíll have to contact the Austrian consulate or the Austrian embassy in Rome before you can visit me here. The telephone numbers of the consulate in Milano are 02 48 12 066 or 02 48 12 937. At any rate, a woman from the consulate promised that she would ring you. For my part, Iíve at last been able to apply for permission to phone you - allegedly we are able/allowed to ring our relatives only (mother, father, siblings ...).

Unfortunately, I donít know whether and when Iíll be able to see a lawyer. Icidentally, here inside we have little or no information of what is going on outside. So it would be nice if you could send me something to read. Allegedly there is no problem with newspapers and periodicals, though books are first checked, or so we hear. But I donít really know for sure. Weíre also permitted clothing. It would be great if you could send me shorts or cut-off trousers, some underpants, T-shirts and a thin jumper. Any excess clothing I can pass on to others, though I do hope that this wonít go on for much longer. If it does, an Italian dictionary wouldnít come amiss, as the warders mostly speak Italian only.

Also give everybody my regards. And please take care of my room - so the others can pay the rent for me. I hope that Iíll soon be able again to take care of that myself. Iíll write more letters in the next few days - after all, thereís not much else for me to do - but please do show this one to others. Of course it is addressed to you, but Iím sure somebody else will read it here in the prison before itís dispatched. So it isnít an entirely personal communication any more - rather public, in fact. Incidentally, you can write back to me, although I canít tell you the address, unfortunately. Perhaps itíll be shown somewhere on the letter or envelope. Everybody here is glad to receive mail.

But the best thing is to hear about solidarity outside. Weíre told there have already been a number of demonstrations, and the Italian authoritiesí decision simply to lock up a few people has come under intense scrutiny by many. By the way, another two people are being detained here with us because of Genoa - supposedly for 30 days each. And then there are some more detained here for other reasons. But most of the prison, so weíve heard, was temporarily cleared of prisoners in preparation for Genoa. So we have a huge prison almost entirely to ourselves. Somehow I get the impression that there are more warders here than inmates. Perhaps that is also the reason why they havenít let us go yet?

Just now itís been almost exactly a week since the police surrounded us. And soon weíll have supper. Just a moment ago weíve been discussing the issue of vegetarian food - whether a doctor would actually be obliged to prescribe a special diet. But weíll see tomorrow. Our fellow inmates, who bring us our food, are almost getting concerned at any rate. Not just because of the food, but also about whether the smokers among us have enough cigarettes - though that is never the case - at least not so far.

It is certainly funny that, on the one hand, we are locked up without knowing why, are being detained here and are nevertheless treated relatively kindly. But then, none of us have staged any rebellion or caused any problems. Somehow weíre all looking forward to our release from here. One week, at any rate, is at least one week too long. How must it feel to people who are jailed for much longer terms even though theyíre innocent. But I notice that Iím repeating myself. So Iíll conclude my letter, sending my best wishes to all of you. I hope weíll meet soon - at liberty.


Alessandria, 29.07.01

P.S. As it turned out, we donít get dinner on Sunday. Fortunately, we still had something and exchanged some between us. The first week here has passed, at any rate, the mosquitoes have gradually all been driven away, and some of us have already gone to bed. Iíll follow suit. Letís hope I can post this letter tomorrow.