Council of Europe alert about the Italian reporter sued by a prosecuting magistrate

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) documented 2 lawsuits against Lorenzo Tondo (The Guardian) on the Council of Europe’s platform, deeming them intimidating – Legal Aid from Ossigeno

OSSIGENO November 10th 2021 – The sensational case of the two lawsuits for defamation against the journalist Lorenzo Tondo, brought by the deputy prosecutor of Palermo, Calogero Ferrara, publicised by Ossigeno and others since 2017, has recently attracted the attention it also deserves at the political and trade union level.

It was the EFJ and the IFJ who highlighted at the highest level the intimidating tenor of the prosecutor’s accusations. They did so by publishing a warning note on November 3rd 2021 on the Council of Europe platform.

EFJ and IFJ have pointed out that reacting with a libel suit to the criticisms of a reporter appears intimidating, and that these lawsuits also have a censorship effect since after the notification of the indictment which took place recently, Lorenzo Tondo and his newspaper (The Guardian) deemed it inappropriate to follow up with their own articles the developments of the trial that so far they have followed conscientiously foreseeing the convolutions that have overturned the arguments of the  prosecution: in particular the discovery, after three years of hearings that the individual under arrest, accused of being a notorious human trafficker, was the wrong person.

The alert on the Council of Europe platform

This is the full text of the alert report published on Wednesday November 3rd 2021 by the union of journalists’ partners EFJ / IFJ, which classified the episode as a violation of the right to information.

Civil Lawsuits Prevent Italian Journalist Lorenzo Tondo from Covering Court Case

On 18 October 2021, the Italian journalist Lorenzo Tondo, correspondent for The Guardian, received notification of the first hearing in his trial, scheduled on 2 February 2022, in two civil lawsuits brought against him by the Italian prosecutor Calogero Ferrara. As a result, the journalist is prevented from covering the so-called “Mered” trial against a suspected human trafficker, which he has been following since 2017. In 2016, public prosecutors in Sicily had announced the arrest in Khartoum (Sudan) of a 35-year-old Eritrean who they alleged was Medhanie Yehdego Mered, also known as “The General”, one of the world’s most-wanted international people traffickers. During the subsequent trial in Palermo, doubts were raised – first of all by Tondo on the basis of evidence-based investigative work – that the arrested man was not Mered but an innocent refugee whose name was Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, whereas Mered was free and active in Uganda. During the trial, Tondo published a book, “Il Generale” (The General), in which he documented his statement and strongly criticised prosecutor Ferrara for the way he was conducting the accusation. Tondo also published a series of articles in The Guardian and a post on his Facebook page criticising the prosecutor. A 12 July 2019 judgment confirmed the mistaken identity. Upon appeal by the public prosecution, the second “Mered” trial started on 27 October 2021, and judgment is expected in February 2022. Between December 2019 and January 2020, Tondo was notified of two civil lawsuits for defamation filed by prosecutor Ferrara: one over his Facebook post and one over his articles posted on The Guardian. Although the mandatory mediation attempt was concluded on 5 November 2020, prosecutor Ferrara waited almost one year before confirming the lawsuits, which were notified shortly before the start of the second “Mered” trial. Critics say this might indicate a strategic move to intimidate and prevent Tondo from covering the second “Mered” trial.

The link to Ossigeno

At the bottom of this note, by way of documentation, EFJ and IFJ have inserted eight links. One is to the news of Ossigeno published on June 27th 2020

“The Deputy Prosecutor of Palermo asks for compensation from a journalist: Ossigeno offers legal assistance”,

Plus another link to the news of Index on Censorship of 30th November 2017 entitled “The Italian journalist Lorenzo Tondo tells Index: ‘I have a duty to defend my rights'” (see here), and the remaining 6 links to articles published by The Guardian.

Links to the alert on the Council of Europe platform

The Free legal aid office of Ossigeno per l’Information, in collaboration with Media Defence, took up the defence of Lorenzo Tondo, entrusting it to the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro in relation to the publication of the post on Facebook.

The Guardian subsequently entrusted the same lawyer Andrea Di Pietro with the defence in court for the lawsuit brought in relation to the articles published in the British newspaper.

The online platform of the Council of Europe was created in 2015 “to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists”, referring to the serious threats to the safety of journalists and the freedom of the media in Europe. For each episode reported on its platform, the Council of Europe asks the government of the country where it occurred for an explanation. In the case of Lorenzo Tondo, the Council of Europe has not yet received any answers from Italy.

ASP

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