Italians outraged by freeing of terrorists

Italian justice and political circles are in a state of turbulence over the release from jail of two Red Brigade terrorists this week. Marco Barbone and Paolo Morandini are the self-confessed killers of Walter Tobagi, a respected young journalist of the influential Milan daily, Corriere della Sera. The two terrorists shot him in May 1980 while Tobagi was on his way to the paper's offices in downtown Milan.

Under a special law for ''pentiti'' (or repentants, as they have been nicknamed) which is part of Italy's anti-terrorism campaign, both terrorists were eligible for reduced sentences of just over eight years in jail.

The law rewards any terrorist who renounces his association with politically violent groups, assists police investigations, and contributes to the disruption of the terrorist network that grew so strong in Italy throughout the 1970s. Jail sentences are usually reduced by two-thirds.

In some cases, when a third of the sentence has already been served and the terrorists' revelations considered significant enough, the sentences have been suspended and the ''pentiti'' allowed out on parole. This was the case with Barbone and Morandini.

The two terrorists in their mid-20s walked out free men while their unrepentant accomplices received sentences of up to 30 years in jail. The crowded Milan courtroom reverberated with cries of ''shame'' and ''traitors'' both from the public and from among the 152 terrorists on trial who received heavy jail sentences.

Debate is raging in political and judicial circles. Criticism is aimed not so much at the law itself - which is widely credited with helping to undermine the terrorist groups which dominated Italy until the law took effect two years ago - as against this particular verdict.

''The verdict poses serious problems of conscience,'' says independent left-wing deputy Stegano Rodota.

The law itself was proposed and passed with wide approval in Parliament, including the parties of many of those who today criticize it. Giacomo Mancini, a Socialist deputy, describes the outraged comments of today's critics as ''Crocodile tears.''

''The law was passed by Parliament and counter-signed by the President himself,'' says Mancini.

Previous cases have occurred with far less outcry. The first to go free were Roberto Sandalo, a member of ''Front Line,'' a leftist group, and Patrizio Peci, a member of the Red Brigades. They helped investigators in solving the killing of ex-Premier Aldo Moro in 1978 and in arresting and effectively disbanding the ''Front Line'' group. Sandalo's confession caused some 150 arrests.

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