The ‘Basta Dittatura’ (Enough of the Dictatorship) chat on the Telegram app had tens of thousands of members and was used to organise demonstrations against vaccines and Italy’s health certificate, or green pass, according to police in the northern city of Turin.
Italy’s green pass proves the bearer has been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19, or has had a recent negative test result, and it is obligatory to access all workplaces as well as many venues such as cinemas and indoor restaurants.
The searches, across 16 cities, targeted 17 of the most radical activists on the chat, which was “characterised by a persistent incitement to hatred and to the commission of serious crimes”, police said.
The suspects had threatened Prime Minister Mario Draghi “as well as the police, doctors, scientists, journalists and other public figures accused of ‘enslavement’ and ‘collaboration’ with the ‘dictatorship’,” they said.
There were “explicit references to ‘hangings’, ‘shootings’, ‘kneecappings’, as well as direct allusions to ‘new marches on Rome’ and terrorism”.
The march on Rome was the insurrection in 1922 by which dictator Benito Mussolini came to power, and marked the beginning of fascist rule in Italy.
Many demonstrations against the green pass and vaccines in Italy have been connected to fascist-affiliated groups such as Forza Nuova, with activists at one larger protest in Rome last month attacking buildings and clashing with police as well as attempting to reach the prime minister’s office.
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The Italian government has since placed restrictions on anti-vax and anti-green pass protests, prohibiting them from taking place in busy areas of city centres.
Opponents of the green pass have described the scheme as an attack on individual liberties, with protests growing since October 15th when the government made it a requirement for access to the workplace.
However, the government insists it will help prevent the need to bring back tough coronavirus restrictions such as business closures this year.
Ministers are now considering tightening the green pass rules further, including by reducing the document’s validity amid changes aimed at slowing the infection rate.
More than 84 percent of people over 12 have been fully vaccinated in Italy.