ROME, Apr 19 – The photo of an Algerian with his mouth taped shut by Italian police during a forced deportation by plane sparked outrage in Italy Thursday, with calls for an inquiry into expulsion practices.
The picture was secretly snapped by a passenger on a Rome to Tunis flight, who posted it on the Internet.
The shot went viral and received widespread newspaper coverage, forcing Italy’s international cooperation minister to demand an explanation from police.
The passenger, film director Francesco Sperandeo, said there were two Algerian immigrants on board the flight on Tuesday, and both were treated in an “inhumane fashion” by police who handcuffed them and taped over their mouths.
Police have claimed the tape was securing bandages over the men’s mouths because they were self-harming by chewing their cheeks and spitting blood.
The pair had been booked on to a flight from Tunis to Istanbul, but during a stop-over in Rome they attempted to enter the country illegally and resisted police efforts to put them on a departing flight, according to media reports.
Once forcibly put on to a flight back to Tunisia, they attempted to prevent the plane from taking off by spitting blood at the other passengers, at which point officers taped bandages over their mouths, the reports said.
“The worst thing was the total indifference of the passengers,” said Sperandeo, who had tried to intervene but had been told by officers to stop interfering in what they described as “a standard police operation.”
Calls for the government to launch an urgent investigation into the affair came from politicians across the political sphere, with many warning that Italy’s already poor record on immigration issues has been dealt another blow.
“We have to avoid episodes of this kind happening again, because Italy has been sanctioned several times over its handling of immigration and we don’t want to repeat past mistakes,” said Rosy Bindi from the Democratic Party.