Italy: Domenico Lucano under house arrest

Urgent Appeal

ITL 001 / 1018 / OBS 125
Arbitrary arrest /
Judicial harassment/
House arrest /
October 16, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Italy.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Mr. Domenico Lucano (known as Mimmo), human rights defender and Mayor of the village of Riace, in Calabria, southern Italy, and the prohibition of residence for his partner, Ms. Tesfahun Lemlem. Mr. Domenico Lucano has been implementing local policies in favour of migrants and refugees’ socio-economic integration, which allowed around 600 newcomers to settle among the 2,000 inhabitants of his village. This model of integration had revitalised the village, source of emigration for the past decades, and prevented the closure of Riace’s local school. For this reason, Mr. Domenico Lucano has become internationally renowned and received several awards for his work in promotion of migrants and refugees’ human rights [1].

According to the information received, on October 1, 2018, Mr. Domenico Lucano and his partner, Ms. Tesfahun Lemlem, were arrested by the customs of Locri, in the context of the so-called “Xenia” Operation [2]. Mr. Lucano is accused of facilitating illegal immigration (under Article 12 of legislative decree n°286/1998 from July 25, 1998) [3] and of “violation of the call for tenders” (Article 353 bis of the Penal Code). Ms. Lemlem is accused of being an accomplice of the same offences. Italian authorities have reproached them with irregularities in awarding public contracts and suspected them of having organised sham marriages between Italian citizens and foreign women in order to allow the latter to stay in Italy. On September 26, 2018, the Locri investigative judge (G.I.P) issued a decree authorising a pre-trial restrictive order against Mr. Domenico Lucano and his partner [4].

On October 2, 2018, Mr. Lucano was consequently put under house arrest and Ms. Lelem was banned from living in the town area. On the same day, the office of the Prosecutor of Locri issued a press release in which it presented the charges against Mr. Domenico Lucano in strongly stigmatizing and non-objective tones, by describing the facts and the evidence with biased terms and by putting together different pieces of telephone tapping in order to prove him guilty.

Of the nine charges presented against Mr. Lucano by the Prosecutor of Locri, only two have been considered grounded by the Locri investigative judge.

With the above-mentioned decree, the Locri judge for the G.I.P. already dismissed seven charges against Mr. Lucano. Among the charges that were dropped were that of “criminal association with aggravated fraud”, “falsification and corruption”, and “abuse of power for embezzlement”. With regard to the management of public funds for migrants, the magistrate noted that, although irregularities and unclear management were found, the professional misconducts found during the investigations did not amount to criminal offences. The Locri investigative judge will now have to determine the validity of Mr. Lucano and Ms. Lemlem’s house arrest.

The Locri Public Prosecutor’s Office specifically imputed to the Mayor a direct attribution of the waste collection and transport service of Riace in favour of two social cooperatives employing refugees, Ecoriace and L’Aquilone, without a call for tenders (Article 353 bis of the Criminal Code). According to the prosecution, the two cooperatives did not fulfil the legal conditions required to obtain the public contract because they were not declared in the specific regional register required by the legislation of the sector [5].

The investigation against Lucano and 31 other people for alleged irregularities in the management of the reception system in Riace had begun a year and a half ago. In October 2017, Mr. Domenico Lucano received a warrant for aggravated fraud, bribery and abuse of office. Moreover, the Observatory recalls that Mr. Lucano’s work had been verbally attacked several times by the Italian government, who had recently defined him a “buonista” (goody-goody) who wants to “fill Italy with migrants”.

In August 2018, Mr. Domenico Lucano undertook a hunger strike to protest against the decision of the Interior Ministry to cut the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR)’s funding for sheltering refugees in his village as a result of alleged irregularities in the management of the fund. The revocation of this fund would have turned into 165 refugees, among which 50 children, without assistance and 80 operators unemployed, and more generally meant the end of Riace’s “system”. The SPRAR is still blocked for Riace, in the attendance of the definitive ruling about the irregularities examined in the aforementioned restrictive order.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment against Mr. Domenico Lucano and Ms. Tesfahun Lemlem as they seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their solidarity and legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Italian authorities to immediately lift the house-arrest order against Mr. Domenico Lucano and Ms. Tesfahun Lemlem and drop all charges against them, as well as against all the defenders of the rights of migrants and refugees in Italy.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Italy asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Domenico Lucano and Ms. Tesfahun Lemlem and of all the defenders of the rights of migrants and refugees in the country;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally lift the house arrest order against Mr. Domenico Lucano and Ms. Tesfahun Lemlem, as the measure is merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

ii. End all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, and drop all remaining charges against Mr. Domenico Lucano and Ms. Resfahun Lemlem and all human rights defenders in Italy; and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iii. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Italy.


Mr. Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister, Palazzo Chigi, Piazza Colonna 370 - 00187 Roma, Phone: (+39) 06 6779 1, Email:
Mr. Luigi Di Maio, Deputy Prime Minister, Palazzo Chigi, Piazza Colonna 370 - 00187 Roma, Phone: (+39) 06 67793114, Email:
Mr. Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, Palazzo Chigi, Piazza Colonna 370 – 00187 Roma, Phone: (+39) 066791, Email:;
Mr. Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phone: (+39) 06.3691. 8899, Fax: (+39) 06 3236210, Email:
Mr. Alfonso Bonafede, Minister for Justice, Phone: +39 06 68851, Email:
H.E. Elena Basila, Ambassador of Italy in Belgium, Phone: (+32) 2 643.38.50, Fax: (+32) 2 648.54.85 Email:
H.E. Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, Phone: (+41) 22 918 08 1, Fax: (+41) 22 740 07 15, Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Italy in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, October 16, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] In 2015, he won the award “For Freedom and Human Rights” in Bern, Switzerland. In 2018, he won the award “Marco Pannella” for human rights work and the award “La Torre” for his work in defense of the legality. In 2016, the « Fortune Magazine » had listed him among the 50 most influential people in the world.
[2] “Operation Xenia” is the name given to the investigation on Mr. Domenico Lucano, led by the Public Prosecutor for Locri and carried out by Italy’s Financial Police.
[3] Article 12 of the legislative decree n°286/1998 from July 25, 1998, is titled “Provisions against illegal immigration” and provides up to 3 years of prison for the offense of promoting illegal immigration, even in the absence of profit.
[4] Reference of the case: nr. 3607/16 r.g.n.r. mod. 21 - nr. 1398/18 reg. G.i.p
[5] Bill nr. 381/1999, Art. 9, §1. The entire legislation is described in §§12.3 ff of the restrictive order.

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