(CN) — The fate of an imprisoned Italian anarchist vowing to die if necessary during a hunger strike to protest his country's harsh regime of solitary confinement has become the topic of heated debates and sparked a series of alleged anarchist attacks.
On Monday, Alfredo Cospito, 55, was moved from a maximum-security prison on the island of Sardinia to Milan's Opera prison due to his worsening health condition. He's refused food for the past 104 days and Italian authorities said he would receive better medical care in Milan.
His lawyer says he will not be force-fed in Milan and that his hunger strike will continue. He's been placed in a system of extreme solitary confinement designed to seal off mafia bosses from running their crime rings from inside prison walls.
By Tuesday, his case was the lead story in Italian newspapers and news shows. His protest is sparking political and public debates over whether Cospito should be seen as a political prisoner rather than a security threat who needs to be shut off from nearly all contact with the outside world.
Since going on hunger strike, Cospito has said he'd rather die than live the rest of his life locked away under Italy's harsh isolation system.
His hunger strike is renewing a difficult debate over the legality of Italian laws that permit the state to almost entirely seal off imprisoned leaders of criminal organizations and terrorist groups from contact with the world beyond the prison walls. This regime is known as 41 bis, named after an article of the Italian penal code.
Cospito's case is gathering some support, especially on the political left, because his history of criminal activity as a militant anarchist is less violent than that of others languishing inside Italy's regime of extreme isolation.
But Italy's new hard-line right-wing government isn't about to budge out of concern for Cospito's health.
On Monday, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the head of the ruling far-right Brothers of Italy, rebuffed any suggestion of giving Cospito any leniency. She said the state would not be intimidated by anyone “who threatens state functionaries.”
Adding to the tensions, anarchist supporters of Cospito have been accused of carrying out violent acts in Italy and elsewhere in Europe to demand his release from isolation.
In recent days, an Italian diplomat's car was torched in Berlin; the entrance to an Italian consulate in Barcelona was smeared with pro-Cospito slogans; two police cars in Milan and five cars owned by a major Italian telecommunications company in Rome were set on fire Monday. Meanwhile, acts of vandalism linked to Cospito and street protests have become common in Italian cities.
Justice Minister Carlo Nordio said the spate of attacks is proof that Cospito should be held in solitary confinement. Cospito was placed inside the 41 bis regime because he was deemed to be the leader of anarchist groups and urging them to commit violence while he was in prison but not in isolation.
“The wave of acts of vandalism shows that the link between the inmate and his companions remains and that would tend to justify maintaining the 41 bis,” Nordio said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Italy placed its embassies on high alert Tuesday, citing the danger of anarchist attacks.
Since going on hunger strike on Oct. 20, Cospito has lost about 90 pounds of weight and he's now using a wheelchair. Last week, he broke his nose after falling in the shower. His doctor has warned that he will die by April 20 unless he stops the strike, as reported by ANSA, an Italian state news agency.
Cospito's lawyer, Flavio Rossi Albertini, has denied that Cospito is a leader of anarchist groups, which he said are not by their nature hierarchical. Authorities accused him of acting as a leader of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front.