Italy: New anti-discrimination bill must meet international free speech standards

Italy: New anti-discrimination bill must meet international free speech standards - Protection

Facade of Palazzo Madama in Rome, hosting the Italian Senate. Photo credit: Francesco Gasparetti from Senigallia / CCSearch

This week, ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert contribution to the Italian Senate on the Bill 2005 – so called “Zan Bill”, named after the MP Alessandro Zan who proposed it – that would amend the Penal Code provisions on incitement. The submission analyses the compliance of key provisions of the Bill with international freedom of expression standards on ‘hate speech’ and provides some key recommendations for legislators and enforcers.

The “Zan Bill” proposes to extend the protected characteristics in the crimes of violence, discrimination and incitement to violence and discrimination to sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability. At present, the respective provisions of the Italian Penal Code only provide protection on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality and religion. The text, already approved by the Chamber of Deputies, is now being discussed by the Senate.

ARTICLE 19’s contribution focuses on four main issues:

  1. First, we argued that the protected characteristics included in Article 1 should be interpreted in light of relevant international human rights standards, and take into utmost account the aim of inclusion, equality and non-discrimination that grounds them.
  2. Contrary to some critics of the proposal, extending the protection in Article 604-bis of the Penal Code to the categories of sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability will not introduce opinion crimes into the Penal Code. The proposal will also not undermine in any way the guarantee of the constitutional right to freedom of expression. Instead, the Zan Bill will actually align the national legal framework with international standards on equality and non-discrimination.
  3. The legislation and its implementation must be guided by relevant international human rights standards. These are needed to identify the criminally relevant conducts, and especially the quid pluris, in addition to the expression of opinions or thoughts. This application would automatically guarantee the protection of the right to freedom of expression.
  4. Social and cultural policies remain a fundamental tool to guarantee an inclusive, tolerant and equal society based on the constitutional values, and to prevent and counter discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The application of criminal provisions should be the last resort and should be applied only in cases of extreme severity.


Read the full submission in Italian