Climate activists charged for throwing paint at Senate building, facing possible prison sentences
Anarchist on hunger strike protesting “disproportionate” prison regime
Italian anarchist Alfredo Cospito began a hunger strike in October 2022 to protest against the severe prison conditions he is facing. The regime he is under, known as 41-bis, is identical to that applied to mafia criminals. It involves solitary confinement, minimal free time, just one hour per month for family meetings with no physical contact, and no access to newspapers or books. Cospito’s case has reignited the debate surrounding the use of the 41-bis regime. He is believed to be the only anarchist held under this special rule. In February 2023, he had reportedly lost 45 kilos due to the strike, raising concerns that he might not survive until the next trial scheduled for 7th March.
Alfredo Cospito was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2012 kneecapping of an energy company executive, and for placing a bomb outside a police academy in Fossano, near Turin in 2006. The latter attack did not result in any casualties or injuries. He was placed under the 41-bis regime after allegedly sending messages to fellow anarchists outside of the prison, calling for attacks to be carried out.
Freedom of association
Last Generation activists charged for throwing paint
On 2nd January 2023, three activists from the environmental movement “Last Generation” splattered Palazzo Madama in Rome with washable orange paint. Palazzo Madama houses the Italian Senate. The activists aimed to protest against the government’s apparent reluctance to transition towards a carbon-neutral economy. They pointed to the reopening of old coal power plants and the ongoing fracking operations as evidence.
The action was strongly criticised by the right-wing government, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Senate Speaker Ignazio La Russa. On the other hand, the editor of the left-wing newspaper Domani argued that Italian authorities are treating climate activists more severely than “hooligan leaders who collaborate with organised crime.” Following the incident, the three activists who were arrested will face trial for vandalism, potentially risking up to 3 years in prison.
Freedom of expression
Government minister and convicted mafioso target author with SLAPP suits
Giuseppe Graviano, a Sicilian mobster currently serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison for organising bombing campaigns in Milan, Rome, and Florence, has filed a defamation lawsuit against author Roberto Saviano. This accusation revolves around Saviano’s explanation of the origin of the mobster’s nickname, “Mother Nature,” in his book “Gomorrah.” Graviano contends that the nickname does not stem from Saviano's claim that, like Mother Nature, he had the power to decide over life and death, but rather from Graviano’s alleged generosity.
Based on this claim, in January 2023, the convicted mafioso petitioned the prosecutor of Trento to order the removal of Saviano’s books from bookstores. The request has been denied by the prosecutor, and a final decision will be made by a judge. Saviano commented that mobsters are not afraid of someone writing about them, but they are concerned about how they are portrayed. He also emphasised the enduring intimidation power of the mafia.
Define “paradox”: a #mafia boss has asked a judge to order the seizure of all copies of a book about the mafia by @robertosaviano who is living under police protection after he faced death threats for exposing mafia secrets. My latest. #Italy https://t.co/BjIdOhWTVc— Lorenzo Tondo (@lorenzo_tondo) January 29, 2023
On 1st February 2023, proceedings began in another defamation case against the author, brought by a member of the right-wing government, specifically Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, who is the leader of the League party. The lawsuit is related to a social media post published by Saviano in 2018, in which he referred to Salvini as the “minister of the criminal underworld.” Saviano explained that this expression was previously used by the politician Gaetano Salvemini to critique a political system that exploited Southern Italy solely for votes, without delivering on promises. The anti-mafia activist used this expression to condemn Salvini’s approach to Calabria, arguing that the Minister capitalized on voters’ support without denouncing the ’Ndrangheta mafia, which was plaguing the region.
This marks the second instance of a government member suing the journalist and author in just a few months, as reported in the latest CIVICUS Monitor update. Saviano has stated that this is an intimidation tactic employed by the government. He could face up to three years in prison for both trials.
Minister of Regional Affairs and Autonomies threatens two newspapers with lawsuits
On 3rd January 2023, Roberto Calderoli, the Minister of Regional Affairs and Autonomies, issued legal threats against two newspapers, namely Il Mattino and Il Messaggero. These threats stem from their publication of multiple critical articles, particularly concerning the bill on “differentiated autonomy,” which, according to the authors, poses a threat to Italian unity. The Minister stated that, at present, he does not intend to initiate any lawsuits, but he may be “compelled” to do so if he encounters further articles labelling him as an “Italy-splitter.” Local journalists’ associations have emphasised that one of the roles of journalism is to critique the government, and such forms of retaliation undermine freedom of expression.
Steel company sues journalist for reporting on pollution
On 10th January, journalist Gad Lerner was sued for defamation by the Italian steel company Acciaierie d’Italia in response to comments he made during a radio programme, Prima Pagina, broadcasted by Radio 3. Lerner raised concerns about the ongoing operations of the Acciaierie d’Italia steel mill, which has been repeatedly accused of polluting activities by various levels of the judiciary. In June 2022, the Council of Europe acknowledged some improvements in the mill's operations but concluded that they were insufficient, as the mill's activities still posed a risk to public health.
La querela di Acciaierie Italia contro Gad Lerner riguarda tutti noi https://t.co/EWovKuVw4F— Gad Lerner (@gadlernertweet) January 10, 2023
Former President of Sicily denigrates journalist
On 17th January 2023, Totò Cuffaro, the commissioner of the Sicilian Christian Democratic (DC) party and former President of the Sicily region, who was convicted to 7 years in prison for his involvement with the mafia, launched an attack on journalist Claudio Reale from the national newspaper La Repubblica. The DC's representative labelled the journalist's article, which claimed that one of Cuffaro's party candidates was the doctor of Matteo Messina Danaro – the mafioso who was on the run for 20 years and arrested in January 2023 – as “disgusting” and containing “defamatory information”. La Repubblica’s editorial team released a statement characterising the incident as particularly grave, especially considering Cuffaro's criminal record, and expressed their full solidarity with Claudio Reale.
Attacks on journalists on duty continue
Also on 17th January, the Tgr Piemonte TV crew was assaulted by residents of Romano Cavanese, near Turin, while covering a house fire that resulted in a man’s death. The crowd not only threatened and insulted the crew but also damaged their equipment. Police intervened, putting an end to the attacks. The local journalists’ union has raised concerns about the risks faced by reporters working on contentious issues.
On 29th January, Luciano Tancredi, the director of the Tuscan newspaper Tirreno, received an envelope containing a bullet at the newspaper’s Livorno office. The accompanying letter stated, “If Alfredo Cospito dies, the judges are all targets. Two months without food. Fire in the prisons,” and was signed with an “A,” presumably referring to the anarchist movement.
On 31st January, Tg2 journalist Stefano Fumagalli and cameraman Davide Messineo were assaulted by protesters gathered in front of Opera prison in Milan. The assailants hurled stones and firecrackers at them. The group was comprised of supporters of Alfredo Cospito, who had recently been transferred to that prison and is being held in solitary confinement.
On the same day, journalists Anna Iselle and Mirko Longhi from the Vicenza local media outlet TvA Notizie were verbally assaulted and threatened by a group of people who surrounded them while the two were filming a press conference about the area's redevelopment. The two journalists promptly called the police, who intervened without delay.