Italy: Prison sentences for defamation violate freedom of expression
08 Aug 2012
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Italian Parliament to repeal the provisions of the Penal Code on defamation and bring its legislation in compliance with the international standards on freedom of expression in response to a recent court decision in a criminal defamation case convicting an Italian journalist and the former director of a newspaper to prison sentences.
ARTICLE 19 has sent requests to both chambers of the Italian parliament urging them to review and amend the provisions of the Penal Code dealing with defamation. Our request was prompted by the prison sentences given by the Bolzano Tribunal to the journalist Orfeo Donatini and the former director of the newspaper Alto Adige, Tiziano Marson.
The criminal defamation case against Donatini and Marson was initiated by a member of Bolzano’s Provincial Council, Sven Knoll. Knoll complained that the defendants had defamed him in an article published in Alto Adige in 2008. The article, written by Donatini, reported that Knoll had participated in a neo-Nazi summit in Val Passiria, Italy. This information, which first appeared in the national weekly L’Espresso, was taken from a police report.
Knoll did not contact Alto Adige in reaction to the article. Instead, he lodged a criminal defamation complaint with the Bolzano Tribunal. At the prosecutor’s request, the journalists were initially acquitted but the case was reviewed by the Court of Cassation which referred it back to the Bolzano Tribunal.
On 20 June 2012 Donatini and Marson were convicted of ‘defamation through the press’ and sentenced to four months in prison and were asked to pay 15,000 Euros (18,500 USD) in compensation.
ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the decision taken in this case. We believe that the presence of criminal defamation provisions in the Penal Code and its continued application as in this case is incompatible with basic democratic ideals, as well as international guarantees of freedom of expression.
ARTICLE 19 is alarmed that Italy is one of the two last remaining countries in Europe where journalists still receive prison sentences for defamation. It is disturbing that one of the founding member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union uses sanctions regarded in the rest of Europe as archaic, anti-democratic and a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression. The second country in Europe is Belarus, which is currently suspended from the Council of Europe because of its lack of respect for fundamental human rights.
The recent case as well as the prison sentences given by the Court of Chieti to the journalists, Valter Nerone, Lattanzio and Vicinanza in 2011, highlight the need for an immediate response at a legislative level.
We call on the Italian Parliament to repeal the defamation provisions of the Penal Code in order to comply with international standards on freedom of expression. The criminal sentence against the Alto Adige journalists must be reversed accordingly.
- For more information, please contact Boyko Boev, Senior Legal Officer at email@example.com or +44 20 7324 2500;
- ARTICLE 19 policy document, Defining Defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation is available here
- For previous ARTICLE 19’s statement Italy: Criminal defamation legislation must be repealed, see here
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