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Judge rules to extradite Italian leftist

November 19th, 2009
Cesare Battisti

Cesare Battisti

Brazil’s top judge said he would vote to extradite former Italian guerrilla Cesare Battisti to face murder charges in Italy.

The vote by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mendes broke a tie among the court’s judges and comes days after Battisti went on a hunger strike in a Brazilian prison to protest his possible extradition.

Brazilian President Lula decided in January to grant Battisti political refugee status and could still decide to block the court’s decision, although no president has ever done so in an extradition case.

The court is expected to decide later in the day if Lula can ignore the ruling in favor of Battisti’s extradition.

Lula’s decision to grant Battisti refugee status was based on a recommendation from his justice minister Tarso Genro, a leftist who argued that the Italian activist was being targeted for his past political views.

Battisti, who reinvented himself as a novel writer, last week sent a letter to Lula saying he was ready to die in Brazil rather than be sent back to Italy, where he was convicted in absentia of four murders from the 1970s.

“I am ready to die if I have to but never at the hands of my executioners,” the letter said.

In his ruling, Mendes disagreed with the government’s characterization of the case, saying that Battisti had been convicted of common crimes, not political ones.

Until Mendes’ decision, the top court had been split over whether to extradite Battisti, with four judges in favor and four against. Mendes announced his vote during the court’s session on Wednesday afternoon.

The ruling is likely to be welcomed by many on both sides of the political spectrum in Brazil, where Lula’s decision to grant Battisti asylum has been widely criticized.

Italy, which says Battisti is a terrorist, has pressured Brazil strongly to extradite him.

Battisti, 54, escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 and lived in France for years, but fled when Paris approved his extradition in 2006. He was arrested on the run in Brazil.

He risks life in prison in Italy on the murder charges dating from the 1970s, a violent period known as the “Years of Lead,” when he belonged to a guerrilla group called “Armed Proletarians for Communism.” He denies the murder charges.

(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello, Writing by Stuart Grudgings, Editing by Philip Barbara)

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