ROME: A video showing a police officer slapping a Tunisian migrant and forcing others to slap each other as “punishment” for trying to escape from a migrant reception center in Sicily has gone viral and sparked controversy in Italy.
Cecilia Baravelli, the prosecutor of Agrigento, a city in southern Sicily, has put the policeman under investigation. He was immediately suspended from service by the chief of the Italian police, Franco Gabrielli.
The video was filmed by a migrant in the reception center of Ciavolotta, on the outskirts of Agrigento. The policeman’s name has not been revealed by the authorities.
The migrants had arrived in Sicily illegally on a dinghy a few days ago. They were under quarantine in the reception center as part of COVID-19 containment measures.
In the video, the policeman shouts at the migrant, slaps him in the face and tells him: “You’re a guest and you have to respect the law.”
Then the policeman turns to five more migrants, all coming from Tunisia, and tells them: “If you really are men, now get on your knees and slap each other. Show me you have learned the lesson.”
The policeman’s actions have been condemned by representatives of all political parties except for the anti-migrant League party, which has sided with him.
Jalel ben Belgacem, the Tunisian consul in Sicily’s capital Palermo, and social worker Jaballah El-Bkhairi went to the Agrigento police department to get information about the case.
“The consul … wanted to take action on an institutional level to acquire information,” said the consulate’s lawyer Leonardo Marino. “We had a very cordial first meeting with the police headquarter’s chief. We will now try to enter proceedings.”