Fears of centralised power spark protest and clashes with police in Italy

Peaceful Assembly

On 5th November, hundreds of anti-government protesters clashed with Italian police in Florence as they demonstrated against a constitutional referendum put forward by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The Italian premier has attempted to make constitutional amendments through a referendum that will reduce the role of the Senate and regional governments. Many fear that the amendments could led to a concentration of power within central government. Protesters marched through the centre of Florence to reach the building where Mr Renzi's Democratic Party was holding its annual conference. Placards reading 'No to Renzi' were held high as police used tear gas to disperse the mobilisation. One person was injured in the ensuing clashes.

Several other protests on a variety of issues have also taken place in Italy over the past few months. On 21st October, hundreds of Muslims gathered to hold a mass prayer outside Rome's Colosseum in protest against the closure of mosques in Italy. Children attended the demonstration holding signs saying 'peace', 'love' and 'open the mosques'. Organisers called for the peaceful protest following the recent closure of five makeshift mosques on administrative grounds. In a press statement about the protest, the organising group Dhuumcatu said:

'We are fed up with the criminalisation of our worship branded as abusive. There is no reference standard, and we can not invent solutions independently from governments. It's a constitutional duty of the authorities to allow the exercise of a constitutional right to worship. A right for all, and also ours.'

Finally, on 7th October, students in dozens of cities across Italy took to the streets to protest against the Italian government’s policies on schools and education linked to the 'Buona scuola' (the 'Good School'), a government initiative for education reforms introduced by Berlusconi’s government. Students claim these measures are highly exploitative as they enforce an alternating school-work programme as part of their education. Students across the country also voiced concerns about overcrowded classes, lack of coordination and lack of transport to school. 

Association

A spate of Mosque closures has sparked concern amongst Italy’s Muslim community. Many believe the closures are in response to attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe and constitute a persecution of religious minorities. On 13th September, a mosque was closed in the city of Rome because of unauthorised building irregularities found on the premises. Furthermore, on 21st September authorities in the city of Rome closed another mosque due to unauthorised permissions for works on the building. Despite Rome hosting the largest Mosque in the Western world, Islam is still not recognised as an official religion in Italy, a status which fuels tension between religious communities. 

On 27th September, councilors in the northern Italian region of Liguria approved a set of measures that drastically restrict the freedom to build new places of worship. While the text doesn't explicitly refer to any particular religion, politicians opposed to the law argue that it unfairly targets Muslims. The laws enable authorities to decide the location and appearance of religious sites, which many argue could be used to discriminate against the distinctive appearance of minarets. Many locals have dubbed the proposal the 'anti-mosque laws' and criticised them as being indicative of discrimination against the followers of Islam in Italy.

Expression

Italy has recently been grappling with the problem of online abuse and laws that enable prosecution for so-called 'revenge porn' posts. On 19th September, the Italian Chamber of Deputies put forward a bill that aims to tackle these issues. However, critics of the bill believe that the provisions will do nothing to prevent online abuse, but will instead permit rampant, unaccountable censorship of the Italian internet, without the rule of law or penalties for abuse. Under the proposed law, the 'site managers' of Italian media, including bloggers, newspapers and social networks would be obliged to censor 'mockery' based on 'the personal and social condition' of the victim. Essentially, this means there would be a need to censor anything the recipient felt was personally insulting. Many argue that this is a worrying threat to freedom of expression on the internet which does not provide for adequate oversight.