Italian stories/ Sued twice. My life was turned upside down

Journalist Pierelisa Rizzo tells her story. The Ossigeno Legal Desk, in collaboration with Media Defence, awarded her a financial contribution to defend herself in court.

The Free Legal Desk of Ossigeno (see here), which operates in collaboration with Media Defence, has granted journalist Pierelisa Rizzo a financial contribution to help with the costs of  legal proceedings in which she is accused of libel (read here). In this article written for Ossigeno Pierelisa Rizzo tells her story.

OSSIGENO 14th  November 2023 – by Pierelisa Rizzo – I can’t wait to see the word “end” written on this legal case that has turned my life upside down. I say this remembering that a couple of years ago, when I read some news about my journalist colleagues being sued for defamation or threatened for what they had reported, I naively asked myself: how is it possible that courageous, well-prepared and ethically correct journalists can end up in such situations?

Now it was my turn and I understand well how these things happen, having been sued for libel and for other offences, knowing that I had simply done my job conscientiously, always taking care not to violate any ethical or legal rules.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione wanted to know about my trial and had studied it. Afterwards, in addition to showing me solidarity, Ossigeno  also asked me if I needed help to face the trial in which I am accused. Of course yes, I replied, and Ossigeno granted me a financial contribution to cover the costs of the legal defence.

For all this I publicly thank Ossigeno: for its commitment to these issues and for the personal support it  gives me. Having Ossigeno alongside me gives me strength; it helps me break the isolation which I experienced during this judicial affair and of which I want to give you some  insight.

I am writing these lines in the Palace of Justice in Enna. I am in the corridor, sitting on a bench next to the entrance to the courtroom named after Giovanni Romano, a very young magistrate who left this earth too soon.

I have sat on this bench for 15 hearings; some lasted over 10 hours! The legal case that I have been following for three years now concerns a priest who is on trial on charges of aggravated sexual violence against minors.

This priest was reported by a man who accused him of abuse suffered when he was a minor. In April 2021 the priest was placed under house arrest by the Enna Flying Squad. The trial split my city in two, dividing it between those who consider him guilty and those who consider him innocent. I hope that the ruling of the Court of Enna, expected on January 10th  2024, will put an end to this partisanship.

I have done my job as a reporter trying always to be on the side of my fellow citizens and their right to know what is happening around them, what must not be ignored by the newspapers as it is of public interest, and what not even the conduct of the trial behind closed doors can hide, as justice is always administered in the name of the people.

It was not easy to maintain balance and adherence to the obligations of my profession. It’s never easy when there are fierce factions on the field who want to prevail and  pull the rug out from under others. I found myself isolated several times, misunderstood even by my colleagues, by some who didn’t understand what I was doing. I have suffered malice and slander. But I continued to do my job as a journalist as it seemed right to me: following the facts, looking for news, checking it and publishing it. This set me apart from other reporters.

My colleagues from Enna did not come to the Palace of Justice on the occasion of any of the 15 hearings which, although they were held behind closed doors, provided the opportunity to learn about serious facts that emerged from the documents and deserved to be communicated to the public.

I know that many do not  think like me, but I’m convinced that I’m not wrong. I have thought a lot about finding a way to convince some colleagues who regularly tried to minimise or deny the true news that I published after having researched it by spending hours and hours on this bench behind the door of the courtroom in which the hearing took place.

At a certain point, to give substance to the serious facts that I was telling and that others denied, making people believe that I had invented them, I decided it was necessary to publish the contents of some chats of a sexual nature between the priest and a young man. Those chats indicate the scope of the charges he faces. They were contained in the priest’s arrest warrant, a document that was in my hands as well as in those of hundreds of other journalists who, however, had not reported it, I don’t understand why.

With that news I ruptured an inexplicable curtain of silence and at that point the priest’s lawyers sued me for defamation and dissemination of procedural documents, and asked for the seizure of my computer and all my digital media.

Fortunately, the Prosecutor’s Office asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed because I had published documents already known to the parties, but the defendant’s lawyers had objected. And so, the trial continued. Next March 21st I will have to appear before the judge of the preliminary hearing (GUP).

In the meantime, I received another lawsuit from the same person, for another article on the same story, always with the same methods and requests. Also in this case there was a request from the prosecutor to dismiss it and opposition from the priest’s lawyers. And therefore I will also be at the hearing before the GUP on the 19th March 2024.

These two lawsuits hanging over my head are distressing and expose me to considerable legal expenses that weigh heavily on my personal budget as a freelance journalist.

I thank very much the Order of Journalists, both the Sicilian and Enna branches of Assostampa trade union, the president of the National Federation of Italian Press (FNSI) Vittorio Di Trapani and all the others who have shown me their full solidarity.

But I am even more grateful to Ossigeno per l’Informazione who, understanding my situation, stood by me in the trial and gave me tangible support to pay my legal costs.

I can’t wait to see the word “end” written on this story that has turned my life upside down.

Pierelisa Rizzo


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