In Italy, Left-Behind Luggage Gets New Lease On Life

In Italy, Left-Behind Luggage Gets New Lease On Life

Train company project delivers abandoned articles to needy recipients.

(Toasty Ken)

By Egle Santolini

In Naples, they found a complete doctor's bag, the type used for home visits, with a blood pressure gauge, a stethoscope and all the trimmings. In Verona, a complete set of clinical records that "took who knows how long to put together." In Milan, the city of shopping, a suitcase that contained two brand new Chanel bags and a barely-used pair of Church shoes, all accompanied by receipts and guarantees: 1,550 euros for each bag and 528 euros for the shoes. There was also a rather curious ‘party set," which included plastic phalluses and latex lingerie.

It's strange what people forget in the suitcases they entrust to luggage services, but then fail to retrieve. The good news is that these objects are now being offered a new life, along with a humanitarian purpose. As part of a recently completed restructing process, Italian rail station company Grandi Stazioni Spa decided to clear out all of its unclaimed bags, appointing a social welfare organization called "La Gabbianella" to put the abandoned articles to good use by distributing them through a network of some 40 local non-profits.

The effort is more complicated than it may seem, explained Mariella Bucalossi, a Gabbianella volunteer and one of the coordinators of the project. "Just taking Rome's Termini station alone, we're talking about 2,600 items, including backpacks, packages and various shoulder bags," she said. "In Rome, we have already processed two lots of bags – 548 of the total of 2,600." They have since been distributed to the Torvajanica mission and and the Erythros charity that defends the rights of foreigners.

The project has also been successful in Bologna, Milan, Florence, Naples, Venice and Verona. Turin, Genoa, Bari and Palermo are getting ready to start the same process.

Things that are immediately reusable are distributed to people who need them. The other objects are sold in tag sales. Even the suitcases end up being reused. "Do you know how many people it takes just to send the stuff to our street children in the Ivory Coast and Mozambique?" said Riccardo Mabilia, a missionary from the Villaregia di Nola community, who cleared out the lost bag collection at Naples' central station. "Each summer 10 or 12 volunteers go to Nairobi, each with one of these suitcases filled with 50 pounds of supplies. Much of it is clothes, but there are also products for hygiene and personal cleanliness."

The biggest problem is damaged bags, some of which, as Ernesto Chiesa of the La Goccia association in Milan described, have been "destroyed by mice, because they were abandoned who knows how long ago. We have had to throw away more than 500 items. The volunteers didn't even want to risk touching them."

La Goccia also works with unclaimed bags at Malpensa airport, where abandoned luggage is treated as very serious business. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the mere idea of unattended baggage in a crowded place can create panic. "And in fact, before donating them for reuse, the railway police have to check them," said Bucalossi.

Sometimes the most suspect bags end up containing the most valuable goods. "According to the contract that regulates left-behind luggage, bags are considered abandoned after 60 days. To be on the safe side, we wait a little longer: between six and 12 months," explains Massimo Paglialunga, lead coordinator for the Grandi Stazioni. "Sometimes someone realizes and asks for everything to be sent. Once the bag has technically passed into the ownership of Grandi Stazioni, the bag will be checked, transferred to a designated storage place, and then donated to the non-profit groups."

The system works well all around, although it's still not clear where those lingerie sets and sex toys ended up. Are they also dutifully recycled? "Joking aside," said Ernesto Chiesa, "we destroyed them all. We do have a sense of morality."

Read the original article in Italian

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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