Lorenzo Tondo, correspondent of “The Guardian”, commented on Facebook about some statements made in the courtroom by the magistrate, who denies the context – The sensational error in the identification of one defendant tried instead of another for trafficking in migrants
The Free Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno (details here), in collaboration with MLDI, took on the defence of the journalist Lorenzo Tondo, a correspondent from Palermo of the British newspaper “The Guardian”, in a legal action brought against him by the deputy prosecutor of Palermo Calogero Ferrara. The defence is entrusted to the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro. The magistrate considers himself defamed by a post on Facebook by Lorenzo Tondo and asks for damages. Public prosecutor Ferrara has initiated a similar mandatory mediation procedure against the journalist from La Repubblica Romina Marceca, the Order of Journalists of Sicily and the Sicilian Press Association.
Ossigeno has taken up the defence of Lorenzo Tondo as it considers this case is of strategic importance to protect the freedom of expression and of the press in the face of an action that clashes with the right of journalists to publish independent information and to express opinions and criticisms arising from the progress of criminal proceedings.
THE DISPUTE concerns the conduct of a trial against the organizers of irregular immigration to Italy by sea via the Sicilian Channel. The trial in the Court of Assizes took place in Palermo and ended in July 2019. The magistrate, who represented the public prosecution in the courtroom, asked for a fourteen year prison sentence for the main defendant of Eritrean origin, who had been identified as the most important and dangerous human trafficker operating across the Sicilian Channel, known as “General”. Instead, according to the defence and some journalists (including Lorenzo Tondo), , the accused was not the “General” but the victim of a sensational mix-up of individuals.
This situation was highlighted in the courtroom, moreover, by a well-known Eritrean journalist called to testify. This had also been documented by some investigative journalism, especially at an international level, such as those published by the New Yorker, signed by the latest Pulitzer Prize-winner Ben Taub or by The Guardian, signed by Lorenzo Tondo himself and also author of the investigative book “The General ”, published by La Nave di Teseo before the first instance sentence which later vindicated Tondo. In fact, on July 12th , 2019 the sentence of the Assize Court acknowledged that there had actually been an exchange of persons and that this emerged all too clearly from the procedural documents.
THE REQUISITION – In the transcription of the requisition read out in the courtroom on June 17th 2019 by the Prosecuting Magistrate. Calogero Ferrara during the trial, which saw accused, among others, the foreign citizen Medhamie Yedhego Mered, allegedly the most sought after migrant trafficker in the world, it states verbatim: “Another aspect as I had already anticipated at the beginning is a series of defensive texts adduced during the hearing which, in the opinion of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, are precisely indicative of the activities of muddying of the waters carried out to provide cover to the accused with a series of texts of scarce credibility if any. The first is the witness heard at the hearing of 22nd January 2018 Meron Estefanos (internationally renowned journalist, editor’s note). Perhaps the Court will remember that she presented herself as an activist for the human rights of Eritrean refugees, or presumed as such, and that instead from the beginning she is the one that has begun instead this real press campaign aimed at protecting the trafficker by spreading a series of fake news from the point of view of the Public Prosecutor’s Office which were vigorously disputed during her own witness statement “.
Given that all the newspapers, Italian and foreign, have taken up and strongly supported during the trial the theories on the mix-up of individuals, first formulated by the Eritrean journalist Meron Estefanos and by the Guardian with Lorenzo Tondo, the accusations of the P.M. directed at her inevitably fell on all the media, accused not only of having produced disinformation, but even of having protected the accused by spreading fake news.
THE ARTICLES AND COMMENTS – On the basis of these statements, therefore, on June 17th 2019 in the online edition of the Palermo edition of the newspaper La Repubblica and the next day in the paper edition of the same newspaper, Romina Marceca said that during the indictment Dr. Ferrara had launched “a heavy attack on journalists who have implemented a press campaign to cover the trafficker”. The content of the article was taken from various newspapers, including online, and provoked a protest note from the Regional Order of Journalists and the Sicilian Press Association. It was Romina Marceca herself who posted the same statements on social networks. On the same day of the indictment, the journalist Lorenzo Tondo published a post on his Facebook wall in which he stated verbatim: “the Palermo prosecutor Calogero Ferrara claims that the press involved in the Mered case has launched a campaign to cover the real trafficker” and ” launches an unacceptable attack against the press “and reported the criticism of the President of the Order of Journalists to Doctor Ferrara.
THE PM – The defence counsel of Doctor Ferrara maintains that the circumstances narrated by the press are false and that they are not reflected in the entire procedural process and in any part of the indictment pronounced by Doctor Calogero Ferrara.
Lorenzo Tondo was the first to publish articles on the mix-up of individuals in The Guardian, signing them together with the journalist of Eritrean origin Meron Estefanos who presented the elements in court in support of that thesis, confirmed by the same sentence of the Court of Assize.