EU Press freedom: Italy's PM takes anti-Mafia journalist to trial
If convicted in the trial, which begins on Tuesday, Roberto Saviano, best known for his international mafia hit "Gomorrah" might face up to three years in prison.
Roberto Saviano, an anti-mafia journalist in Italy, will be on trial next week on defamation charges brought by Giorgia Meloni, currently Italy's prime minister, for an outburst in 2020 criticizing her stance on refugees.
Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy was a minor opposition party at the time, but it won a landslide election victory last month, thanks in part to its promise to halt the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
If convicted in the trial, which begins on Tuesday, Saviano, best known for his international mafia hit "Gomorrah", might face up to three years in prison.
AFP quoted the 43-year-old who said that it was an "unequal confrontation, decidedly grotesque", while press freedom groups warned it sent a "chilling message" to journalists.
Such trials are emblematic of an Italian culture in which prominent figures, generally politicians, intimidate reporters with frequent litigation, watchdogs say.
It is worth noting that Italy was ranked 58th in Reporters Without Borders' 2022 international press freedom ranking, the lowest score in Western Europe.
The case began in December 2020, when Saviano was asked to remark on the death of a six-month-old Guinean baby in a shipwreck on the political TV chat program "Piazzapulita."
He blamed Meloni and Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League party that is now part of her coalition government.
In 2019, Meloni suggested that charity ships that rescue migrants "should be sunk," while Salvini, then interior minister, barred the vessels from docking.
Meloni sued, as did Salvini, whose separate case is forecasted to go to trial in February.
PEN International, a free speech advocacy organization, wrote Meloni an open letter this week requesting her to dismiss the case.
"Pursuing your case against him would send a chilling message to all journalists and writers in the country, who may no longer dare to speak out for fear of reprisals," it said.
Neofascism in display
This comes as France agreed to take the Ocean Viking ship in, calling it an “exceptional” step, and vowed to retaliate against Italy for disrespecting international laws. Paris called Rome "irresponsible" and "inhumane" for not welcoming the migrants.
This tension between France and Italy escalated after Italy elected its new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy, known as a party with neofascist roots. She joined forces back in September with the League's Matteo Salvini to demonstrate their "Italians First" nationalist agenda that vows to end mass migration into the country as a key aspect of their campaign.
With that, Meloni struck back at France during a news conference, expressing that she was “struck by the aggressive reaction from the French government, which from my point of view is incomprehensible and unjustified."
France, as a retaliatory response, decided to freeze a plan intended under the European burden-sharing accord to take 3,500 asylum seekers currently in Italy.
Even the UK is involved, as last January witnessed one man's death and about 30 other people were rescued in the Channel after their boat encountered difficulties while attempting to cross from northern France to Britain.