Italy lawyers want writer jailed in sabotage trial

Italian prosecutors called Monday for Erri de Luca, a writer on trial for inciting criminal damage to a controversial high-speed rail link through the Alps, to be thrown behind bars for eight months.

Italy lawyers want writer jailed in sabotage trial
Italian writer Erri De Luca accused of inciting crime by saying in an interview that the controversial high-speed rail-link through the Alps (TAV) "should be sabotaged" Photo: Marco Bertorello

The 65-year-old had until now risked a possible five-year prison term in a case that has become a cause celebre for the anti-globalisation movement. The verdict is expected on October 19th.

De Luca, who insisted from the start that he would not appeal if he was found guilty, said he was “stunned by the difference between the arguments produced (by prosecutors) and this minimum” sentencing request.

“I expected the maximum,” he said.

At the heart of the case are statements made by De Luca in interviews in which he described as legitimate attempts to sabotage a project that has become a focus for anti-globalization protesters.

His defence is essentially that sabotage has several possible meanings, not all of them amounting to criminal action, and De Luca had previously told the court that he was only capable of inciting people to read or write.

“Erri de Luca used the word sabotage,” Turin prosecutor Antonio Rinaudo insisted, pointing to numerous attacks on the site of the high-speed rail link, particularly after the writer's interviews to Italian media in September 2013.

De Luca was prosecuted at the instigation of LTF, the Franco-Italian consortium building the multi-billion-euro link from Lyon in France to Turin in northwestern Italy.

 'I'm with Erri'

Italian authorities later joined the prosecution of the writer over the content of two 2013 interviews in which he was quoted as saying the rail link “should be sabotaged” and that he thought “it is just to sabotage it.”

“We cannot invoke freedom of expression in this case,” prosecutor Rinaudo said on Monday, arguing that De Luca's statements to the media had been made publicly and in a “precise context” which lead to “concrete and illegal acts”.

The writer's “international renown” gave his words extra weight, the prosecutor told the court, with around 30 members of the public present, some wearing T-shirts or badges reading #iostoconerri (I'm with Erri).

Opponents of the rail link say it will wreck the pristine Val di Susa on the Italian side of the Alps and potentially release toxic asbestos particles into the environment.

Despite the ferocious opposition and criticism from France's public spending watchdog, the two countries' governments are strongly committed to the project, for which drilling work began in 2013.

It is expected to be completed in the late 2020s at a cost of at least €26 billion ($29 million), around 40 percent of which will be provided by the European Union under a scheme to promote strategic cross-border links.

De Luca is a life-long radical whose literary tales centred on his home city of Naples have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish and a number of other languages.

He is best known for “Montedidio” (2001, translated into English as “God's Mountain” in 2002) which won one of France's best-known literary prizes, the Femina.

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