Jail for Journalists: the Council of Europe awaits explanations from Italy

About the alert published on the International Platform for the Protection of Journalism which regards the legal advice of the Italian State Attorney presented to the Constitutional Court as a worrying step backwards

Is the Italian government in favour of or opposed to the proposed legislation which for twenty years have advocated the abolition of prison sentences (currently up to six years) for journalists found guilty of defamation in the press?

This answer is waited by the Council of Europe, through diplomatic channels, from the Italian authorities, following the publication, on May 5th, 2020, on its “Platform for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists” of an alert formulated by the Association of European Journalists (AGE / AEJ). This alert considers the “alert” filed last March by Avvocatura dello Stato (the Italian State Attorney office) at the Constitutional Court to justify the legitimacy of the application of this penalty, a worrying signal, a backward step compared to the commitments made by the Italian government in Parliament and at international level. The alert is posted on the Platform as a second-level pre-alarm of a threat to press freedom from a state body and which has a chilling effect on freedom of information.

The Platform notes that the proposal marks a step backwards compared to a series of legislative initiatives promoted in Parliament to abolish imprisonment in cases of defamation in the press”. These initiatives have been under discussion since 2001 “following strong international pressure” but have never reached final approval. “The European Court of Human Rights – recalls the Platform of the Council of Europe – found that Italy has violated article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the maintenance of laws that allow imprisonment for defamation, with the 2013 sentence of   Belpietro v. Italy and, more recently, in the March 2019 ruling Sallusti v. Italy “.

“The National Council of the Order of Journalists and Ossigeno per l’Informazione protested that the proposal presented to the Constitutional Court contradicts the Italian government’s past assurances to repeal the law allowing imprisonment; and the prospect of further delays has a chilling effect on the work of journalists and leaving  their right to freedom of expression without adequate legal protection “.

The matter arose on the side-lines of the objection of constitutional legitimacy of the rules that provide for prison sentences for those found guilty of defamation in the press raised by the Neapolitan union of journalists (Sugc) in relation to trials in which two journalists were liable for this penalty. The National Order of Journalists also intervened in the proceedings before the Constitutional Court. Its president Carlo Verna, opposing the proposal to conclude the trial behind closed doors, first raised the problem of the ambiguous position taken by the State Attorney and asked the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, to clarify the position of the government on maintaining the prison sentence without getting answer.

The position statements of Carlo Verna, Odg, FNSI and Ossigeno are attached to the alert published on the Platform.


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