Trial begins in Italy against writer Roberto Saviano for defamation against Giogia Meloni | DW | 15.11.2022

The Italian Justice opens this Tuesday (11.15.2022) a trial against the journalist Roberto Saviano after the defamation lawsuit filed two years ago by the current Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, whom he called “bastard” for her position against migrants .

Saviano, 43, known for his best-selling mafia novel “Gomorrah,” risks up to three years in prison if convicted.

The hearing has been set by the ninth section of the Criminal Court of Rome and will be chaired by Judge Roberta Leoni.

Meloni, then the leader of the ultra-right Italian Brothers party, in opposition at the time, who has always been in favor of a strong-arm policy against migration, will not be present at the hearing as he is in Bali, Indonesia, for the summit of heads of state of the G20.

The case dates back to December 2020, when Saviano commented on a television program about the death of a six-month-old Guinean baby during a shipwreck and went so far as to point his finger at Meloni for the political use of the phenomenon of migration that he usually makes. .

“I only get to tell Meloni and (Matteo) Salvini: bastards! How can they do something like that?” Saviano lamented on the program.

The writer was referring to the baby, Joseph, one of 111 migrants rescued by the Open Arms relief ship, who died before he could receive medical treatment.

Saviano’s outrage was sparked by statements by Meloni, who in 2019 had said that the ships of humanitarian NGOs that rescue migrants “should sink”, while Salvini, Interior Minister that year, had ordered the blockade of the entrance to Italy of those boats loaded with people after days adrift.

Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister of Italy.

Press freedom NGOs called to withdraw the complaint

Organizations defending the freedom of the press and expression, including PEN International, have asked Meloni to withdraw the complaint.

“Continuing with this judicial action sends an alarming message to all journalists and writers in the country, who are going to stop speaking freely for fear of reprisals,” denounced PEN, an international organization of journalists and writers.

The author, who has been under police protection since he published ‘Gomorrah’ (2006) due to threats from the mafia, considers that this is yet another intimidation. “Intimidate one to intimidate a hundred,” he told the AFP agency.

Numerous intellectuals and journalists have expressed their solidarity with Saviano on social networks and censored the law in Italy, where journalists and writers can be denounced and imprisoned for what they say or write.

In 2017, according to the latest data available from the National Institute of Statistics (Istat), almost 9,500 defamation complaints against journalists were registered in Italy.

About 60% were dismissed, while for 6.6% the trial began. Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with sentences ranging from six months to three years in prison.

Italy’s Constitutional Court urged legislators in 2020 and 2021 to amend the law, considering jail sentences for such cases unconstitutional and deeming such a sentence to be decided only for cases of “exceptional gravity.”

The “passivity and inertia of the Italian Government and Parliament” end up being “accomplices of the enemies of press freedom,” says Saviano.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Italy ranks 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index.

CP (afp, PEN)

Trial begins in Italy against writer Roberto Saviano for defamation against Giogia Meloni | DW | 15.11.2022