Data on the outcome of trials in the courts of Sicily presented in Palermo on December 13th 2018 by Ossigeno on the tenth anniversary of its foundation.
Each year, the Sicilian courts impose sentences of imprisonment for a total of 10 years and six months on defendants (mainly journalists) for libel in print . They cover a total 16 convictions out of 437. A further 22 convicted persons must pay a fine. All the remaining 399 are acquitted of the charges after trials lasting from two to six years. These are official data provided by the Ministry of Justice to the Ossigeno per l’Informazione observatory and concern the outcome of the 874 trials for defamation in print in the judicial districts of Sicily in the two-year period 2014-2015 and account for 8.4% of the 10,728 trials regarding defamation in the same period throughout Italy.
These hitherto unpublished data were released in Palermo on December 13th 2018, by Ossigeno per l’Informazione during the conference entitled “Art. 21, freedom of the press and the map of threatened journalists in Italy “, promoted jointly by the Regional Order of Journalists and the Pio Latorre Study Centre, hosted by the Banco di Sicilia Foundation in Villa Zito.
The president of Ossigeno, Alberto Spampinato explained that “Also in Sicily as in the rest of Italy – the criminal proceedings for defamation in print end with the acquittal of the accused (mainly journalists) in more than nine cases out of ten. The Sicilian percentage is 91.3%, in line with the national average, which is 92%. Every year in the whole of Italy, 103 years of imprisonment are inflicted on those found guilty. The 10 years and six months imposed in Sicily indicate that on the island the application of the prison sentence for this crime is higher than the national average and shows considerable variations between the districts of the Court of Appeal of Palermo, Catania, Caltanissetta and Messina, with a record held by the latter “.
“In the face of all this, it is inexplicable for Parliament to continue to postpone the abolition of imprisonment for libel and the introduction of other more elementary legislation necessary to prevent vexatious and unfounded lawsuits being used as a gag. “It is inexplicable” – said Spampinato – “that in the face of unquestionable official data such as these, which highlight the scandal of those who abuse the machinery of justice with impunity by using it for intimidating purposes, nothing changes”.
The president of Ossigeno added that these official data highlight two aspects: “Nine acquittals for every ten lawsuits means that even in Sicily, the machinery of justice turns unnecessarily because of those who present vexatious and unfounded complaints, in most cases to intimidate and to make life difficult for journalists. These data also show that prison sentences for this crime continue to be applied profusely, despite the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights affirming that this punishment is highly disproportionate and has a chilling effect on freedom of the press. The Italian Parliament also shares this view and has been discussing for years draft laws to abolish imprisonment, leaving fines as the only penalty”.