A story of how a Ghanaian in Italy claimed to have been beaten mercilessly by a branch of the Italian Police force in the city Parma is taking up the front pages of Italy's national and local newspapers.
The 'La Repubblica', 'Corriere della Sera', 'Gazzetta di Parma' among others have all extensively covered the story of how Emmanuel Bonsu Foster, a 22-year-old Ghanaian student in Italy, suspected to be a 'drug pusher' was arrested by six officers of the Italy's Municipal Police - known as 'Vigili Urbani' - and assaulted for over 3 hours. The arrest left him in addition to an excruciating pain a swollen bloody left eye and face in the process.
When I met him at where he resides in Parma staying with his parents and siblings, three days after the incident, he was still marked with the swollen face and the blood stained left eye difficult to look twice if he tries to open his eyes. There were a host of reporters at his home, including a TV crew, who have all come to get his story. He looked stressed out as a result of repeatedly recounting his story but found time to give me full details of what happened to him.
He said he left home to school for an evening class and arriving earlier before time he put down his school bag in the classroom and decided to pass some time at a park which is close to his school. According to him he was in the park barely 10 minutes when he saw two men walking back and forth and just as he got up to leave for his evening studies he was walking when they pounced on him and held his hands. He managed to free himself saying he became scared thinking they were some bandits out to attack him so decided to run but they chased and caught him in the process forcing him to the ground. By this time four others, all wearing plain clothes had joined in.
“They started beating me, punching and slapping me in the face whilst I was on the ground. One of them put his foot on my head and held a pistol to my face insisting I am a 'drug pusher' and to tell them the truth”, he told me.
Continuing his story , Emmanuel who speaks both Italian and English fluently said the six men, who initially he had no idea were policemen, picked him from the ground, handcuffed him and took him into a vehicle of which he mentioned there was no indication of police identification, parked inside the park. “Five of them left whilst one kept me in the vehicle under surveillance still handcuffed. He made some racist remarks at me and also said he has been waiting for an opportunity to make such an arrest. He claimed I broke his bracelet in the course of struggling with them and he continued to spank my face in the vehicle,” the smallish-looking Ghanaian student said.
Emmanuel also responded to my questions saying when he was handcuffed they carried a search on him and found in his pocket a school bus pass with his photograph on it, a library pass and an amount of 6 euros adding though he told them he is a student and has come for an evening class whereby has left his school bag in the classroom they were not convinced he is not involved in any drug business.
He went on: “They took me to the station and put me in a cell. Some of them went to my school and brought my school bag. After some minutes they came back to me and demanded I strip naked (nude) and do some up and down movements, a period which they watched me for some minutes. They came back again with a paper document having my name and other particulars on it and requested me to sign it but I refused so they continued to beat me and later asked me to dress up”.
After continuous pressure and more beatings after being taken out of the cell into another room he signed the document taken to him. His story went further that later at the police station whilst still being asked to confess his involvement in drugs they showed him some brownish substance and was asked why he has been using it but again when he denied using anything of the sort they went on molesting him. “One of them took a 2-litre plastic water bottle, three quarters filled with water, and repeatedly hit me on the head. He told me there is another person in the cell who has confessed he is doing drug business with me and that I should tell them the truth of my involvement”, he asserted.
The young student who showed brave courage despite his injuries, in narrating his story, stated they took him back to the cell with a swollen face marked with a left eye almost closed and there he met another person. According to him he didn't know the man or his nationality but he looked like a Moroccan decent. The man told him he has not said anything to the police about him (Emmanuel). He pointed out that throughout his ordeal at the hands of the police he requested to call his father but they refused.
The father of Emmanuel, Alex Bonsu, who was with his son during the interview gave his side of the story saying the police phoned him at about 9p.m on the day of the incident more than three hours after the son had been arrested and was told he is involved in some drug case and that he (the father) should come to the station with his son's identity documents adding they warned him not to come to the station if he is not in possession of the requested documents. According him, he and his wife were shocked about the police claim and quickly took the son's social security number card plus a couple of identity documents they found in his room and went to the police station.
He continued: “When we arrived they told me the same story they had earlier said on the phone to me and asked to see the requested documents which I submitted. They explained further that my son refused to give them his identity upon request and tried to run but they chased him for which he fell and sustained some injuries”.
Still recounting his story at the police station, he said, he asked to see his son and when he was brought out from one room and saw him he could not believe what he saw of his disfigured face and therefore did not believe the police story telling them they have beaten him. In the presence of the police he asked the son what happened to him and he confirmed they severely beat him.
The father told me at this stage he became furious and demanded a proper explanation from the police but when they realised he was becoming more furious and difficult to control one of them took an envelope, wrote on it these words: 'Emanuel Negro', then put into it all the documents of the son and asked them to leave the office.
It was around 10:30 p.m when they finally left the police station and the following day he reported the matter to the Police force,'Carabinieri'.
The six Municipal Police officers involved in the case have denied the story of Emmanuel. In their version to reporters they held that they were on a routine control at the park where Emmanuel was arrested and were out against 'drug pushers'.
They explained Emmanuel was kept under watch for one hour in the park as he was seen making telephone calls and his gestures and body language showed the behaviour of a 'drug pusher' waiting for his clients. When he was approached and asked to show his document of identity he tried to flee and upon a chase fell in the process causing injuries to himself. On the said envelope and the racist inscription the police further denied writing anything on it when it was handed over with the documents and that Emmanuel wrote on it to make his case.
The father of Emmanuel showed me a photocopy of the inscription as claimed to have been written by the police, saying the original copy is with the 'Carabinieri', and told me from observation you need not be a handwriting expert to know the two words were written by the same hand. Emmanuel defended his charge saying he could not have made a mistake writing his own name and the name 'Emmanuel' on the envelope was written with a single 'm' instead of double 'm'.
The magnitude of the case has attracted a wide interest by the media and the public. It's Emmanuel's words against the six police officers. Many similar cases under which immigrants were mal-treated or severely assaulted by Italians didn't end on a palatable note for the victims, some who died in the process. As you read this there are reports that a Senegal national and a Chinese man have been brutally beaten by the Italian police in two separate cities. How this particular case of Emmanuel is going to end after all the legal tussles would be watched closely in view of the interest it has generated.
- Reggie Tagoe in Parma, Italy.