#freegabriele, right now!

By Francesco Vacchiano

In response to Turkey’s constitutional referendum on April 16, 2017, which replaces the parliamentary system with an executive presidency,  PoLAR and APLA commissioned a series of responses from scholars and activists working on democracy and human rights in the region. In this first installment, Valeria Verdolini and Francesco Vacchiano highlight the situation of Gabriele del Grande,who was detained without charge in Turkey from April 9th to 23rd. On April 24th, he was deported back to Italy. These pieces were written during his detention.

Planning the journey for “Io Sto Con La Sposa” (“On the Bride’s Side”).

Gabriele Del Grande is an Italian activist, free-lance journalist and writer who has published extensively on migration and borders in the Mediterranean. He is the author of the blog Fortress Europe, the first independent initiative aimed at documenting the deadly effects of the European policies of mobility restriction and control. For almost fifteen years, he has been following the routes of the migrants who head to Europe, narrating their longing for a better life and free movement, but also their clash against the apparatuses of immobilization and control that they run into along the way.

He is one of the best contemporary Italian journalists, one who brings together a profound vision of reality with a deep respect for people. He cares about people, not just their stories. He has been imprisoned in a detention center for foreigners in Turkey since April 9, 2017, isolated from the other detainees and not allowed to establish contact with his family.

His interest in people’s lives and worldviews has led him to various spots on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and beyond. He was the only foreign journalist who reached Gafsa, in Tunisia, during the long miners’ strike in Spring 2008. His stay, which resulted in his ban from the country, enabled him to hear, early on, the outcry for social justice that, three years later, would sweep the squares of the Arab countries and end in the fall of many of their long-lasting regimes. In 2011, he was with the people who took to the streets in Tunis, Cairo, and Tripoli, in an attempt to spread word of their claims for freedom and dignity. After the outbreak of the Syrian war, he entered the country several times, documenting the forms of self-organization of the local communities and the struggle of the common people to keep their humanity under inhuman conditions.

Gabriele (right) during filming of “Io Sto Con La Sposa” (“On the Bride’s Side”).

In 2013, he was sitting with some friends in a café in Milan’s central station, when he was approached by a Syrian asylum seeker who asked for information on how to reach Sweden. According to European Union regulations, moving freely across Europe is forbidden to asylum seekers. For this reason, the man was looking for one of the many traffickers who organize the clandestine journey at heavy prices. In a matter of a few seconds the crazy idea took shape: staging a fake marriage to bring the guests to their intended destination, and filming the journey to turn it into a public act of civil disobedience. In this peculiar way, the road movie “Io Sto Con La Sposa” (“On the Bride’s Side“) was thus conceived and realized in the following months. The film was presented at the Venice Film Festival in 2014, accompanied by a festive cortège of fake brides, and won three special awards. Since then, the film has been used to raise awareness and denounce the multiplication of internal EU borders and unwelcoming attitudes toward refugees in Europe. Beyond this, the movie is also a hopeful celebration of solidarity among people, a timely and creative critique of walls, nationalism, and communitarianism.

Now Gabriele is detained in Mugla, not far from the Aegean coast of Turkey, in one of those detention centers for foreigners that he has relentlessly denounced throughout the years. It would not be surprising to discover that this center is funded directly by Brussels, perhaps through one of the many “cooperation programs”’ that promote “migration management” in teamwork with the authoritarian regimes which neighbor Europe.

Gabriele is not an anthropologist, but his work is the form of journalism that most resembles the way in which anthropologists approach people and become committed to their daily concerns. For this reason, he is frequently invited to universities and other academic forums to present his work.

We demand his immediate release. He is held without any formal charge under a regime of exception in which “administrative detention” has become the usual way to deal with the undesired: the same fate as many non-European migrants and a condition which reminds us that around 150 journalists are held in prison in Turkey for their work of investigation and denunciation.

Francesco Vacchiano is an anthropologist and a clinical psychologist with interests in migration, medical and psychological anthropology, European borders and boundaries, bureaucracies and politics of citizenship, as well as societies and institutions in North Africa. He has been doing research in Morocco, Tunisia and in the Mediterranean region on some of the main profiles of contemporary human mobility (“unaccompanied minors,” refugees, and “victims of trafficking”) and on the policies and practices of their inclusion/exclusion. He is a researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon.

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