ECPMF / O2 in English

Italy: Prison. New bill proposes heavy jail sentence for defamation

This article is published on the web site of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

For four years, the Italian Parliament promised to abolish prison sentences for defamation offences – but it did not so. Since 2012, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have been playing ping pong with a bill that aims to keep this promise. But neither side has approved it yet and there was no progress made for more than a year. Instead, during the coming days, the Senate is expected to consent to a bill to increase the maximum penalty for defamation from six to nine years in prison – supporting the exact opposite of what the parliament has pledged to do.

Meanwhile, Italy is not very reluctant to impose prison sentences on journalists: in the last five years, at least 18 custodial sentences for a total of thirty years’ imprisonment have been declared. Defamation cases continue to be used in uncontested ways as improper weapons to intimidate journalists.

The Parliamentary inconsistency is shocking. Firstly, the draft bill that proposes the abolition of the prison sentence for defamation was already voted and approved – by the Senate and the House of Representatives – and now awaits only the final vote by the very Senate that instead prepares to pass a bill which demands the opposite. Secondly, the inconsistency is absolute because at the same moment both the House and the Senate have unanimously decided otherwise. They propose to delete the very norm on which the new bill is now based.

The cast privilege

The additional three years of prison would be applied to those found guilty of defamation with the intention of threat or retaliation against mayors, local officials, magistrates and other representatives of the political, administrative or judicial body. The sentence would be applied as an aggravating circumstance to what is already provided by the fourth paragraph of Article 595 of the Criminal Code, a paragraph that both houses have decided to lift with the bill that ….

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