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Vatileaks 2. A happy ending and many problems after 8 months of distress

What does the trial against Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi teach. How many trials like this take place in Europe far from the spotlight? How to avoid them?

The so-called Vatileaks 2 trial shows how, today, journalists are accused of serious crimes and must defend themselves, even in the face of foreign courts, facing stiff fees (which are often not supported by publishers) and personal suffering, even when it is clear from the beginning that they did their job properly, and therefore should not be pursued. It is clear that the ease with which, by representing their professional activities as a crime, it becomes possible to keep on trial for months, if not for years, investigative journalists. This is one of the problems that we must solve, finally recognizing an adequate legal status and an explicit protection for who gathers and disseminates information in the public interest. This problem also affects the most advanced democratic countries, who even today are reluctant to face the need to take this step even though the number of threats and spurious legal actions against those who publish uncomfortable news for power has already multiplied at every latitude.

To grasp the teaching that comes from this incident three points must be emphasized.

1. The Vatileaks case has not occurred in a peripheral country but in the heart of Europe, in one state – the Holy See – intimately tied to Italy, in a member country of the OSCE, namely that – to be able to get in this organization – it has signed an accession treaty which recognizes that freedom of expression and the press is a human right to be respected.

2. Similar trials, with improper allegations against journalists, trials that deserve the same attention, often take place in other European countries, for example in Italy, but do not get the same attention from international organizations and do not arouse the same choral protests from journalist organizations.

3. The defendant journalists in these trials suffer stiff legal costs, on top of the anguish of a possible sentence to prison. This happens throughout the trial’s duration, even when the public recognizes that they did their job properly, that they have collected information on matters of public interest and have spread it because citizens have a right to know.

It is a good thing that these and other contradictions have emerged clearly during the Vatileaks 2 trial (many within the trial’s proceedings themselves) celebrated in the Vatican, with all the spotlights pointed at it, which took place from November 2015 to July 2016. Fortunately, and due to the strong protests from the international institutions and organizations of journalists, the judges decided fairly quickly (in Italy the times are much longer) and have come to a wise conclusion: the Court has indeed declined to condemn the Italian journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi. The Court declared that it had no jurisdiction over the events that occurred abroad and on foreign citizens, who are not public officers of the Vatican State.

This was the happy ending. But for eight months the two journalists were on trial on serious charges and risked up to eight years in prison.

They were accused by the authorities of the Holy See of the crime of disseminating confidential news and documents, according to law number IX of Vatican City State, of July 13, 2013 (Article 116 bis of the Penal Code). Only in the penultimate day of the trial the prosecution changed to another less serious charge: a moral behavior such that it encouraged the other defendants to commit a crime, by revealing confidential documents. In that same hearing, the Vatican prosecutor has asked the court to acquit one of them (Fittipaldi) for lack of evidence and convict the other (Nuzzi) to twelve months in prison.

The Italian journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi had each published a highly successful book revealing some incidents of misuse of Vatican finances. The investigating authorities of the Vatican State charged them in November 2015. The trial was held inside the Vatican (Holy See).

As soon as the journalists were indicted, from Vienna, the OSCE Representative of Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, launched a strong appeal to the Vatican State, which is a member of the OSCE, asking to withdraw the criminal charges against both. “Journalists – he said – should be free to report on matters of public interest and protect their confidential sources. I urge the authorities not to proceed with the charges and to protect the rights of journalists in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the OSCE.”

The incident cast a shadow on the image of Pope Francis.

The Italian authorities have kept silent about the whole issue, for diplomatic reasons. Instead, many members of Parliament (over a hundred) signed a document in which they asked the Vatican authorities to withdraw the criminal charges against the two Italian journalists, stating that they clearly had nothing but their job.

Only July 4, 2016, the Vatican prosecutor changed position and the procedural status of journalists lightened. The prosecutor asked the Court not to judge them for the leak, but for moral complicity in the disclosure of confidential information. Moreover, in that hearing the prosecution proposed to aquit Fittipaldi, because there was insufficient evidence of his responsibility, and condemn Nuzzi to a year in prison, giving him a suspended sentence. On July 7th, the judges decided otherwise. They stated that: in the Vatican press freedom is guaranteed by divine right and to judge these facts does not fall within our competence.

ASP

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