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Silvia Baraldini (born in Rome, Italy, December 12, 1947) is an Italian activist. She was active in both the Black Power and Puerto Rican independence movements in the United States in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In 1982 she was sentenced to 43 years under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for conspiring to commit two armed robberies, driving a secondary getaway car during the prison break of convicted murderer and fellow political activist Joanne Chesimard (a.k.a. Assata Shakur) and for contempt of court for refusing to testify before a Grand Jury that was investigating the activities of the Puerto Rican independence movement.
Although the government sustained that her sentence was appropriate given the serious nature of her crimes, her supporters argued that her harsh sentence was due to her unpopular political beliefs. Baraldini was imprisoned in numerous high-security facilities in the United States, including the notorious basement unit of a Federal Prison in Lexington, Kentucky which housed two other women, Susan Rosenberg and Alejandrina Torres, also convicted of politically motivated crimes. The unit was sharply criticized by Amnesty International and its closure was eventually ordered by U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker. After being transferred to Italy in 1999 to serve the remainder of her sentence, she was released on September 26, 2006, thanks to a pardon law approved in the previous months by the Italian Parliament.
In 1961, at the age of fourteen, she moved to the United States with her parents. Her father was initially employed by Olivetti, but was subsequently employed as a civilian with the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C.
She later attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison where she became a political activist.
Arrest and conviction
On November 9, 1982, she was arrested and in September 1983 convicted for multiple crimes:
- For racketeering and conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statutes for her participation in a terrorist group, the Black Liberation Army.
- For conspiring to commit two armored truck robberies.
- For her involvement in the prison break of convicted murderer and Black Liberation Army leader Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur.
- For contempt of court after refusing to surrender the names of members of the May 19th Communist Movement.
She was convicted and sentenced to 43 years: 20 years for assisting in the prison break of a convicted murderer, 20 years for criminal conspiracy, and 3 years for criminal contempt.
Her conviction sparked a campaign in her native Italy, supported mainly by leftist parties and movements, who protested what they saw as the disproportionate length of her sentence, which was perceived as politically motivated, particularly for the part regarding the sentence to 3 years for "criminal contempt", which they claimed infringed on the "right to remain silent" of the accused enshrined in all major European criminal codes. Notable from this respect is the famous Italian singer Francesco Guccini's song "Canzone per Silvia", expressing solidarity with the prisoner in view of freedom of thought and general condemnation of the prison system, addressed to the United States as a nation. Intervened in his favor also Noam Chomsky, Roberto Benigni, Dario Fo, Luis Sepulveda, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union
The fact that, had she been convicted in Italy of the same crimes and found guilty, she would not have been sentenced more than a maximum of 25 years in prison was another point of contention between her supporters and her detractors.
In 2009, Margo Pelletier & Lisa Thomas of Thin Edge Films released the documentary "Freeing Silvia Baraldini" about the life and radical politics surrounding Silvia's life.
On August 24, 1999, upon an agreement reached between the Department of Justice and the Italian Ministry of Justice (headed at the time by Mr. Oliviero Diliberto, a member of the Party of Italian Communists), she was transferred to Italy to serve the remainder of her sentence. The terms of the transfer called for her to remain in Italian prison until March 2008. In 2001, she was released on house arrest, permitted to work for the City of Rome between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m each day. She was released from detention on September 26, 2006, thanks to a general pardon law approved in the previous months by the Italian Parliament. That happened despite the agreement with the Government of the United States which stated that she had to remain in prison until 2008.
- E.Mancinelli, Il caso Baraldini, Datanews, 1995, ISBN 88-7981-059-6
- G.Bugani, Liberate Silvia (DVD + Libro), Bacchilega Editore, 2005, ISBN 88-88775-25-0
- James, Joy (2003). Imprisoned intellectuals: America's political prisoners write on life, liberation, and rebellion. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 224–. ISBN 978-0-7425-2027-1. Retrieved 29 March 2012.