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Roberto Saviano, the Italian writer and journalist behind the Gomorrah film and series, will go to court this week charged with criminal defamation by Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new far-right Prime Minister.
The charges relate to an incident that took place before Meloni was elected. Saviano, speaking on Italian current affairs show Piazzapulita in December 2020, called Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brother of Italy party, a “bastard” for her anti-immigrant policies.
The context was the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea who drowned in the Mediterranean en route to Italy. The child was among six people who perished that night in a year an estimated 1,881 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean along various routes, according to figures from the refugee agency UNHCR. In the months leading up to this event, Meloni, then leader of the opposition, attacked rescue ships that were patrolling to save migrants in distress. Describing the ships carrying immigrants as “migrant taxis,” she called on them to be sequestered and sunk.
Many expected Meloni to drop the suit after she was elected Prime Minister last month, but the criminal case is going ahead. The charge of criminal defamation brings with it a potential prison sentence of up to three years. The case is also a test for press freedom and freedom of expression In Italy, as, increasingly, defamation charges are being used to gag the press.
In an interview with Rome radio station Radio Capital, Saviano reported that Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s nationalist League party and a member of Meloni’s government, as well as Italy’s new culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano have also filed defamation complaints against him.
Last week, writers association Pen International wrote an open letter to Meloni, calling on her to drop the charged against Saviano: “as the Prime Minister of Italy, 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,” wrote Pen International president Burhan Sonmez.
Saviano will appear in court in Rome on Tuesday.
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