Gabriele Del Grande’s hometown of Lucca will host the first wave of protest demanding his release. The journalist was arrested on April 10th in Turkey, on the Syrian border, and has since been held in a detention centre and refused access to a lawyer. “The city makes its position clear and will decide on the next move”, reads the Facebook post inviting citizens to gather in Piazza San Michele at 6.15pm, under the loggia of the Palazzo Pretorio. It is one of the many initiatives organised in response to the appeal Del Grande himself made in the first phone call he was permitted, after 9 days in detention. In the call to his partner, Alexandra D’Onofrio, he told her not to worry, “I haven’t been harmed but I can’t call, they have taken my cellphone and my things, even if they haven’t accused me of any crime [...] I’m not allowed to appoint a lawyer, nor to know when my detention – apparently for carrying out my work – will end.” In the call, Del Grande declared that he was going to begin a hunger strike and invited everyone to “rally to demand that my rights be respected”.
1700 people have already signed up to participate in the “Rally for the liberation of Gabriele del Grande” (“Mobilitazione per la liberazione di Gabriele Del Grande”) at 6pm on April 20th in Milan, in the pedestrian area between Largo Cairoli and Piazza Castello (1, via Beltrami), and another 4,600 have expressed their interest in attending. “We invite you to support Gabriele’s hunger strike with a chain of events that will continue until Gabriele is free. Bring candles to symbolically illuminate the search for truth and the mission of investigative journalism.” Also on April 20th, there will be a flashmob for Gabriele in Venice at the Campo Santa Margherita, and a demonstration in Turin (6pm). On April 21st, Pisa will host an initiative to demand his release (Piazza dei Cavalieri, 6pm). The COSPE (Cooperation for the Development of Emerging Countries) published a photo of their staff holding placards carrying the hashtag “#FreeGabrieleDelGrande”, with the following statement: “We ask the Italian government to use all the tools necessary for the immediate release of our friend and fellow journalist. Send us your photos and your appeals for the immediate release of Gabriele.”
Tomorrow there will also be an event in Bologna, at 6pm in Piazza del Nettuno. Participating organisations include Bandiera Gialla, Accaparlante e Centro Documentazione Handicap, the online magazine Redattore Sociale, Amici di Piazza Grande, the charity Gruppo di Volontariato Civile, and the theatre company Cantieri Meticci. The invitation is to bring candles “to symbolically illuminate the search for truth and the mission of investigative journalism”. Meanwhile tonight from 8.30-10pm the Palazzo del Podestà will be illuminated in yellow, the colour of human rights. Also in Bologna, at the Tibiletti hall, 38 via Zamboni, at 9pm on Saturday April 22nd, there will be a screening of Gabriele Del Grande’s documentary film, “Io sto con la sposa” (“On the bride’s side”), as part of the Mille/Piani Festival dell’Antropologia (anthropology festival).
“Gabriele Del Grande must be released. Fullstop. But having demanded this elementary form of justice how do we make it happen? In the era of “likes” the simplest way would be a virtual protest, made at our desks with a few clicks of the mouse. But that is not enough, particularly out of respect for Gabriele, a journalist who never contented himself with working in front of his computer. So if it there’s any chance it could help, let’s leave our houses, let’s put our bodies to work in sit-ins, or whatever else Gabriele’s family and friends ask of us. We will be there,” writes Danilo De Biasio, director of the Festival dei Diritti Umani (human rights festival) taking place in Milan from May 2nd - 7th. He extends a hopeful invitation to Del Grande: “When they set you free, come and tell your story at our festival. We are waiting for you.”
The CGIL (Italian General Confederation of Labour) has also added its voice to the many demanding the liberation of the journalist. “Del Grande, who has been deprived of freedom for a week, is in Turkey simply to carry out his work and to document the current situation on the Turkish-Syrian border. This cannot constitute a reason for this unjust and prolonged detention,” writes Fausto Durant, the CGIL’s representative for european and international policy. “The CGIL asks the Italian authorities, the foreign ministry and the diplomatic corps in Turkey, to ensure that our fellow countryman, who has begun a hunger strike, is immediately given his freedom.”
The president of the ARCI (Italian Cultural and Leisure Association), Francesca Chiavacci, expresses “solidarity” with Del Grande. “We need strong mobilisation throughout civil society to demand his release. We will participate in this, and help to organise it alongside our colleagues who right now are deciding what initiatives to implement. We demand the utmost efforts from our diplomatic staff in Turkey, and an urgent intervention by the foreign minister for the immediate release and repatriation of Del Grande.” She adds: “Del Grande is held in prison in a country in which, especially since the declaration of the state of emergency following the failed coup d'état last summer, there has been increasingly strong repression at the expense of respect for human rights. And certainly the atmosphere of tension since the contested victory in Erdogan’s constitutional referendum, with the opposition taking to the streets to demand the results be annulled, makes the climate even more inflammable. We are with Gabriele and hope to have him back among us soon.”
Luigi Manconi, Democratic Party senator and president of the Senate’s Human Rights Commission, spoke out in a Facebook post: “It should be remembered once again that the hypothetical charges against the reporter correspond exactly to the activities of his profession and the reason for his presence in Turkey: reporting, carrying out research, and writing a book. This is why it is grotesque that he is accused of having gone to a prohibited area and, improbably, of having interviewed his fellow prisoners. On the other hand, the Turkish foreign ministry had given our consular authorities a guarantee that Del Grande would be released and repatriated within a matter of hours, and that they would then promptly share all the details of his detention with us. This did not happen. And this must induce those who know Del Grande and have appreciated his work for many years and, beyond that, those who value freedom of opinion and of speech, to follow the developments of this story with the utmost attention.”
The Macerata branch of the GUS (Human Solidarity Group), responded to the appeal for support for Gabriele Del Grande. “We intend to take every initiative to bring Gabriele home,” said the president, Paolo Bernabucci. “Italian and European institutions must shake off their stupor and return, or rather, begin, to work for the respect and defense of human rights.” The Centro di Ricerca per la Pace e i Diritti Umani (Peace and Human Rights Research Centre) of Viterbo has joined the call for help for Del Grande: “Every person of good will make your voice heard. Gabriele Del Grande is a person who for years has been committed to saving human life, as every human and more importantly all human institutions should be. We demand that his rights be respected and that he be released as soon as possible.”
Borderline Sicilia has also launched an appeal for the immediate release of Gabriele Del Grande: “We find it unacceptable that a journalist be detained and deprived of his fundamental rights just for carrying out his work – work deemed inconvenient to a foreign government – even in a country in which the rule of law has been abolished. We call on the Italian authorities to actively pursue a resolution to this affair, using every means to prevent Erdogan’s Turkey from using this as a further tool of blackmail against Italy and Europe. We expect Gabriele to return home soon to continue the precious investigative work that has distinguished him for years.”
In less than 12 hours, more than 7,100 people have signed a petition on Change.org for the liberation of Gabriele Del Grande: “We demand the foreign ministry make every effort for a positive outcome to this affair, and to reaffirm the right to a free press as one of the cornerstones of democracy.”
Press conference at the Senate.
Gabriele del Grande has been freed on April 24th, 2017 and is now back in Italy.
Translated by Amica Sciortino Nowlan