8 years in first instance to a journalist

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The sensational case of Gabriele Carchidi, subjected to 179 penal trials (35 hearings in the last month) for libel and the draft bill to abolish imprisonment that Parliament fails to approve

In Italy there are 179 penal libel trials (ten started in October 2019 alone) against the journalist from Cosenza, Gabriele Carchidi, chief editor of the online newspaper Iacchite.com.

The journalist has already been sentenced 17 times at first instance to imprisonment for a total of 8 and a half years (101 months), without a conditional suspended sentence. He has not yet gone to prison because the appeals process and appeals to the Supreme Court are still on-going.

Ossigeno presented this case at the conference on impunity held in the Italian Senate on the 25th October 2019 when Carchidi’s lawyer, Nicola Mondelli explained in detail his case.

THE LATEST SENTENCING – On the 3rd July 2019 the Court of Appeal of Catanzaro confirmed the first instance sentence of Gabriele Carchidi for libel against the magistrate Claudio Curreli, confirming the sentence already imposed. The court of Cosenza (judge De Vuono) in March 2017 had imposed a suspended sentence of nine months of imprisonment. The Court of Appeal has turned detention into a fine of 3500 euro. The judges considered some articles defamatory in which Carchidi had criticized the prosecutor Claudio Curreli for the conduct of an inquiry into an event that took place in the city of Cosenza area, and which had exhibited sensational twists. The protagonist was a monk, Fedele Bisceglia, convicted at the first instance for sexual violence against a nun. A conviction was then annulled by the Supreme Court which had ordered a re-trial.

In an article published in January 2015, Carchidi had written that Curreli’s conduct had contributed to the decision to convict the monk. Curreli and his defence counsel argued instead that the sentence had been annulled due to lack of a motive. Other articles forming part of the complaint criticized the work of the Prosecuting Magistrate Claudio Curreli in a procedure on the assignment of Roma children to social services or adopters. Another article dealt with the circumstances under which Curreli, following a complaint by the monk Bisceglia, had been investigated for abuse of office at the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Salerno and then acquitted.

THE 2017 ALARM – In 2017 Ossigeno had highlighted with concern the judicial situation of this journalist, since in just eight months he had been subjected to four prison sentences for libel without conditional suspension and was subjected to dozens of other proceedings for the same offence.

This situation foreshadowed the probable exceeding of the limit within which the sentence can remain suspended. Therefore, a new “Sallusti case” appeared likely, that is  a carrying out of the  sentence and the arrest of the journalist with consequent reproach of the international institutions and the necessity of an intervention of the Head of State to save the situation by commuting the sentence.

Thus, the trial situation of Carchidi, on input from Ossigeno and on the initiative of AEJ and Index on Censorship, was reported on the “Platform to promote the protection of journalism and journalists’ security” hosted by the Council of Europe, as an episode of chilling effect on freedom of information. But that alarm didn’t change things.

THE ACCUMULATION OF SENTENCES. The judgement of the 3rd July 2019, with the conversion into a fine of the nine-month prison sentence, has attenuated the gravity of the situation, but not in a decisive way.

In fact, Gabriele Carchidi – as his lawyer Nicola Mondelli points out – has already accumulated at first instance sentences of about eight and a half years of imprisonment (101 months) and the appeal proceedings are in progress. Recently, he was sentenced on appeal to eight months and one month’s imprisonment respectively. He is currently subjected to 169 criminal proceedings. In October 2019 alone, there were 35 hearings, more than one per day.

According to the picture outlined by his lawyer, the following sentences were pronounced against Gabriele Carchidi on the 1st October 2019:

In the first instance, 9 acquittals, 17 sentences of imprisonment, 15 sentences of pecuniary punishment, while two trials were closed due to the remission of the lawsuit and 5 for dismissal.

The sentences amount to a total of 101 months of imprisonment (i.e. 8 years and 5 months), fines for a total of € 37,982, damages for € 100,000 and court costs of € 60,000 to be paid.

In the second instance, he received three prison sentences (with a reduction in the sentence already imposed from 29 months to 11 months of imprisonment), and a fine.

At the moment no sentence is final.

The parties offended by Carchidi are politicians, magistrates, entrepreneurs, police officers and Carabinieri, mobsters, corrupt people and individuals convicted of murder.

To whomever defines Carchidi as a serial libellant, the lawyer Mondelli replies:

“Everyone knows that in Cosenza it is sufficient to file a complaint against Carchidi to be committed to trial. The serious facts recounted and described are not taken into consideration by the Public Prosecutor, although they could contain evidence of criminal activity. And then, almost always, Carchidi is condemned and the convictions have the effect of exalting the honesty and moral integrity of the plaintiffs. Among the plaintiffs are the Carabiniere Francesco Tedesco a defendant and then key witness in the trial for the death of Stefano Cucchi (Carchidi indicated him as one of the murderers), two regional councillors (one currently under house arrest and the other in prison for the events reported by Carchidi and considered libellous by them), the mayor of Cosenza Mario Occhiuto, the state prosecutor of Cosenza, Mario Spagnuolo ”.

THE COMMENT OF OXYGEN – In line with European jurisprudence, Ossigeno considers prison sentences for libel as excessive, disproportionate and unjust as they have an intimidating effect on the whole world of journalism. Therefore, the Observatory emphasises that the sentences of Carchidi are examples of the general intimidatory effect that the application of the current Italian law can have on freedom of information, without necessarily sharing the statements for which the journalist was judged nor the ways in which he expressed them and without entering into the merits of the charges made and the guilty verdicts. This case shows first and foremost the urgent need to abolish imprisonment for libel. Secondly, it shows the neglect of the Italian media for news stories that help explain the problems of justice and reflect on the concrete impact of current norms in clear contrast with European jurisprudence. All the existing norms that for over twenty years the Italian Parliament has tried to abolish. Thirdly, the Carchidi case strengthens the proposal to entrust the conduct of journalists’ trials to specialized prosecutors, as is the case in other countries and as some Italian magistrates have proposed. ASP

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