BERLUSCONI AND AMANDA KNOX: The decision by an Italian appeals court to clear Amanda Knox of murder was an embarrassment for Italian police and prosecutors, and gave allies of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi an opportunity to push a longtime agenda.
Soon after the decision was announced, Angelino Alfano, former minister of justice and now secretary of Berlusconi’s party, accused the appellate court judges of incompetence, adding that “they never pay” for their mistakes. The right-wing newspaper Libero titled its front-page editorial “Silvio Like Amanda,” portraying them both as victims of an unjust and persecutory system. It was the latest episode in an enduring strategy in which Berlusconi and his allies demonize judges in an attempt to shape public opinion and ultimately push for radical judicial reform. Proposed legislation would restructure the state body that assures the autonomy of the Italian judiciary—half of its members would be elected by Parliament—and would also allow members of Parliament to determine which crimes ought to be a priority for investigation by the courts.
Analysts say that the reforms being pushed by Berlusconi and Co. would compromise the constitutional division of state powers. Indeed, allowing politicians to infiltrate such check-and-balance mechanisms is especially concerning in a country where eighteen politicians who won seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections were previously convicted of some kind of crime.
The renewed public debate on judicial reform comes at an auspicious moment: Berlusconi is about to face trial for luring a minor into prostitution—his infamous “bunga bunga parties.” Sarcastically defined by Berlusconi’s lawyer as “the perfect trial” for its complicated tangle of sex, politics and money, the case has the potential to erode the image Berlusconi has built for himself: as a victim of a politicized judiciary. This image has allowed him to push for legislation that would assure him a life above the law. In one case, the prime minister faced charges of accounting fraud; so he successfully sought to decriminalize accounting fraud. In another case, he was accused of bribing judges; so he pushed legislation to shield top leaders from criminal prosecution (the law passed but was later stuck down by the constitutional court).
With Berlusconi’s government at risk of falling apart, the response to the Knox verdict by his allies shows that they have no intention of giving up their seats in Parliament. The propaganda is back on. PAOLO M.C. CRAVERO
PUNISHING DOCTORS IN BAHRAIN: Between September 25 and October 6, Bahrain’s military courts handed out sentences that add up to nearly 2,500 years in prison. The 200-plus defendants, arrested during protests against the government in March, included medical personnel, teachers and political activists. There was one death sentence, for the killing of a police officer.
Among the most prominent defendants are twenty medical workers accused of attempting a coup, along with possession of weapons and occupying a public building (Salmaniya Medical Center, where a number of them worked). The prosecution of the medics—who received between five and fifteen years in prison for providing medical treatment to protesters—has sparked an international outcry. Among the less-known cases are thirty-two men sentenced to fifteen years each for an arson attack on a farm belonging to a member of the royal family, as well as a ten-year sentence handed down to the president of Bahrain’s teachers union.