CIVICUS

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Last updated on 17.12.2018 at 13:26

Italy-Overview

The core civic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression are generally respected in Italy but some challenges persist.

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Journalists stage flash-mob protests following 5-Star Movement attacks

Journalists stage flash-mob protests following 5-Star Movement attacks

On 13th November 2018, Journalists in towns and cities across Italy protested against attacks on media freedom.

Expression

On 13th November 2018, Italian journalists held flash-mob protests in Rome and in other cities, after politicians from the 5-Star Movement (M5S), including Deputy Premier and Labour and Industry Minister Luigi Di Maio, blasted the media for its reporting of a case against Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi. The verbal attacks shocked many Italian people and journalists alike, as Di Maio labelled reporters “dirty low-down jackals” while fellow 5-Star member Alessandro Di Battista called journalists “prostitutes and hacks". While the biggest protests by journalists took place in Rome and Milan, many other demonstrations were held in cities and towns across Italy.

In response, 5-Star Movement leaders called the protests “a pathetic defense". However on 13th November, the same day as the protests, Italy’s communications authority AGCOM said attacks on the media risked damaging the free press. They stressed the “need for free, plural information that respects people's dignity, the role of the political parties and the professional autonomy of journalists".  Their statement continued:

"Every attack on press organs risks harming the Constitutional principle of free expression of thought that is at the foundation of pluralism of information, and freedom to report and criticise."

“Freedom of the press is under attack,” said Vittorio di Trapani, the president of USIGRAI (a trade union of Italian journalists). “It is clear that this is not only about isolated cases, but a strategy to hit journalists, the freedom of the press, and therefore the right for citizens to be informed.”

Association

People in Italy are free to form and join associations and this right is guaranteed by law.

People in Italy are free to form and join associations and this right is guaranteed by law. Civil society organisations do not face legal obstacles with regard to official registration, they are easy to set up and are able to receive and use financial resources without interference. Associations can be either recognised or non-recognised. A recognised association is set up by public deed and must be registered with the competent register of legal persons trough a complex and expensive process. Non-recognised organisations, despite not having full legal capacity, are still legally constituted and can obtain tax concessions upon registration with the tax authority. A new law passed in 2016 simplifies the procedures for organisations to obtain legal personality. The law also aims to restructure civil society regulation through a Third Sector Code, where the development of a single register is included. Re-organisation of tax relief and economic support measures for third sector organisations is also proposed. Human rights defenders sometimes face restrictions including judicial harassment and threats, especially those working with the Roma minority in Italy or with refugees and migrant workers. In 2018, reports by Amnesty and the Trans National Institute describe the criminalisation of solidarity by CSOs in Italy. Pressure was particularly strong on Search and Rescue (SAR) NGOs.

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Peaceful Assembly

People have a constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

People in Italy have a constitutional right to peaceful assembly. The constitution requires prior notice be given to the authorities before a demonstration and establishes that public meetings may be prohibited only on the grounds of security and public safety. Legislation establishes that notification must be given at least three days in advance. Media is guaranteed access to public assemblies, however authorities can establish time and place limitations. Security forces can legally disperse a protest if is considered seditious, damaging to the prestige of the authorities, or threatening to the public order or the safety of citizens. There have been instances of clashes between protestors and security forces, which have used excessive force to control protests. 

Expression

Free expression is constitutionally guaranteed, however some challenges prevent this right from being fully respected in practice.

Free expression is constitutionally guaranteed, however some challenges prevent this right from being fully respected in practice. Defamation is a criminal offense under the penal code and the legislation establishes penalties for up to three years in prison. Although there have been some attempts to decriminalise free speech, a final amendment has not been enacted. This provision is used to restrict speech and to curtail dissent. Journalists, including bloggers, face intimidation and attacks from the state, organised crime and other non-sate actors. The Italian civil society organisation Ossigeno documented over 350 free expression violations during 2017. Media ownership is highly concentrated and political influence over the media remains a serious concern. Italy has not enacted access to information legislation. There are no restrictions on internet connectivity and access to social media, although certain websites related to gambling and terrorism are subject to blocking or removal. Journalists and academics have also been prevented from reporting on migration centres in Italy.