12 Jun 2020 Lvl. 2
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Alert created on: 05 May 2020 n° 48/2020 Italy

Government Signals Reversal of Commitments to End Jail Penalties for Journalists in Defamation Law

Source of threatState
CategoryOther acts having chilling effects on media freedom
Partner AEJ EFJ/IFJ
Partner AEJ EFJ/IFJ
On 31 March 2020, the Attorney-General (Avvocatura dello Stato), acting for the government, submitted a memorandum to the Constitutional Court which indicates its intention to retain current legal provisions permitting prison terms of up to six years for journalists convicted of defamation in relation to articles published in the media. The submission marks a step backwards from a number of legislative initiatives taken by parliament to abolish the penalty of imprisonment in defamation cases. A decision on the matter by the Constitutional Court had been expected during April but was postponed in connection with the current public health emergency. The next hearing has been set for 9 June. The European Court of Human Rights has found Italy in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights over its retention of laws permitting imprisonment for defamation, in its 2013 ruling in Maurizio Belpietro v. Italy and most recently in Sallusti v. Italy in March 2019. Under strong international pressure the Italian parliament has since 2001 debated a serious of bills aimed at reforming the defamation laws but none of them has been passed. The Ordine dei Giornalisti (National Council of the Order of Journalists) and the press freedom NGO Ossigeno per l’Informazione have protested that the memorandum submitted to the Constitutional Court contradicts past undertakings of the executive to repeal the law allowing for custodial sentences, and the prospect of further delay has a chilling effect on the work of journalists and leaves them without adequate legal protection of their right to freedom of expression
Updates
12 Jun 2020
On 9 June 2020, the Italian Constitutional Court held a public hearing into the constitutional legitimacy of Article 595 of the penal code and Article 13 of the law on the press. The Court referred a decision on whether to abolish prison sentences for criminal defamation in relation to journalists and media workers to the Italian Parliament, ruling that while reform was “urgently necessary in light of the ECtHR’s case law”, it was the responsibility of Parliament to amend the legislation. Since several bills on the subject are currently pending in Parliament, the Court, with due respect for loyal institutional cooperation, has decided to postpone the discussion of the issues until the public hearing on 22 June 2021, in order to allow the Chambers to intervene with a new regulation of the matter.
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