On 27 October, the Italian Senate scrapped a Bill that would have extended protection against incitement to violence, violence and discrimination to LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, amongst others.
The “Zan Bill,” named after the MP Alessandro Zan who proposed it, aimed 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. The motion against the Bill, approved by a 16-vote margin, means the Italian Penal Code only provides protection on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality and religion.
The Bill had already undergone scrutiny by the Deputy Chambers earlier this year, and the latest move means it will likely not be passed if tabled again.
“With this vote, Italy loses a great opportunity to align to international standards on free expression, equality and non-discrimination,” said Maria Luisa Stasi, Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19. “From the beginning, the legislative proposal has been harshly instrumentalised by the far right, who continuously misrepresented the provisions as a limit to free expression. Although there was some margin for improvement, there was no limit to this fundamental right in the wording of the Bill. Rather, it would have raised human rights standards and helped deliver a more tolerant and inclusive society.”
In July, ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert contribution to the Italian Senate on the Bill 2005 — the Zan Bill – that would amend the Penal Code provisions on incitement and on violence and discrimination against protected categories. The submission analysed the compliance of key provisions of the Bill with international freedom of expression standards on hate speech and provided some key recommendations for legislators and enforcers.
ARTICLE 19’s contribution focuses on four main issues:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.