Brazil's Asylum to Italian Terrorist Leads Rome to Recall Ambassador

Cesare Battisti The Italian government recalled its ambassador to Brazil, this Tuesday, January 27, for consultations in response to Brasília's definitive decision to grant political refugee status to a convicted Italian terrorist.

The move came after Brazil's attorney general, Antonio Fernando de Sousa, officially shelved Italy's extradition request despite protests from Rome over the Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro's decision to grant asylum to leftist terrorist Cesare Battisti, on the grounds that he risked political persecution were he to be extradited to Italy.

"We consider Battisti to be a terrorist and a murderer who absolutely does not deserve refugee status. The decision not to extradite him is frankly unacceptable," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

According to Frattini, the decision not to reconsider the decision "appears to us to be both a desire to avoid the issue and to cover up what was purely and simply a political decision by the Brazilian justice minister."

"This was frankly unacceptable and for this reason we have recalled Ambassador Michele Valensise for consultations. We want to review with him what paths remain open to us," the foreign minister added.

Frattini went on to observe that Brazil "is a great country which has always been a friend to Italy. It is for this reason that we did not expect it to adopt a similar position and why our response is so grave."

Battisti, 54, was convicted in absentia for four murders committed in the late 1970s and sentenced to life. Minister Genro's decision was in contrast with the position of Brazil's National Committee for Refugees, which two months ago voted against granting Battisti asylum.

Battisti was arrested in Brazil last March, some four years after he had fled to that country to avoid extradition to Italy from France, where he had lived for 15 years and become a successful writer of crime novels.

The Brazilian justice ministry explained that the decision to grant asylum was based on a 1951 Brazilian statute and a subsequent 1997 law which defined the guidelines for granting asylum that included "the real threat of persecution due to race...or political opinion."

According to the Brazilian ministry, Battisti had been condemned in Italy only after he had fled to France in 1981 and on evidence not based on fact but on testimony given by a former terrorist turned state's witness, Pietro Mutti.

Genro has staunchly defended his decision and said "I am absolutely convinced we have adopted the right position" after determining that Battisti risked persecution in Italy.

Mercopress

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