Judge Antonino Di Matteo

Chief prosecutor In Italy's "mafia trial of the century"

Italian judge Antonino Di Matteo is the chief prosecutor in an unprecedented trial in Palermo, Sicily, where politicians, police and the mafia are in the dock together. He is now one of the most threatened people in Italy.

“When I was 19 the mafia war broke out in the 1980s. In just one year 200 people were killed. This was the Palermo I was brought up in. It was one of the things that made me want to become a judge.”

Inspired by Italy’s most famous anti-mafia judges, Falcone and Borsellino, who prosecuted hundreds of Cosa Nostra members in the largest mafia case in history during the 1980s, Di Matteo is taking up where they left off. He is trying to shine a light on Italy's so-called season of terror from 1991 to 1994, when the mafia organised a series of bombings and murders to force a negotiation with the government.

In this trial the accused are mafiosi who planned and carried out these bombings, and politicians and policemen who passed on the mafia's violent blackmail demands to the government.

Di Matteo says: “The mafia isn’t only the mafia that shoots, bombs and trafficks drugs. That’s one aspect of the mafia, the military mafia. The mafia is, above all, something else. It’s an organisation that wants to exercise power in place of the state.”

He has received a series of death threats, but refuses to give up.

"I am conflicted. To give up would be a personal defeat. But it would offer respite for me and my family. Finally, a margin of freedom. Maybe even tranquility. But only maybe. Even if I gave up, it doesn't mean I would get fewer death threats," Di Matteo reflects.

Many Italians have taken to the streets in solidarity with the judge. But there has been a notable silence from political leaders about his plight.

“We knew from the beginning that it would be an uphill struggle. A road littered with attacks, pitfalls, moments of difficulty,” Di Matteo says. “I believe the truth about these massacres which have made all decent Italians weep can be found in the stories we are trying to open up. If we don’t uncover our history we can’t progress. We run the risk that this disease of the past that still plagues us today could infect our future.”

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