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Italian Senate rejects proposal to retain imprisonment for libel

(IPI/IFEX) - 27 November 2012 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today urged Italy to decriminalise defamation after the country's Senate rejected a measure that would have retained imprisonment as a possible penalty for the offence.

The Senate's 123-29 vote yesterday reversed its approval earlier this month of an amendment to existing law that would have seen journalists convicted of libel imprisoned for up to a year, while their editors would face fines of up to €50,000.

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: "While we are glad that this move to retain imprisonment was defeated, defamation remains a criminal offence in Italy and journalists still face imprisonment if convicted of it. We urge Italian lawmakers to decriminalise libel and to heed calls to bring civil defamation law in line with international standards."

Parliament has been considering changes to Italian defamation law since Italy's highest tribunal in September upheld Il Giornale editor Alessandro Sallusti's conviction and 14-month prison sentence for libel. The sentence was suspended last month, the newspaper Gazzetta del Sud reported yesterday, but Milan prosecutors have asked that Sallusti be placed under house arrest. Sallusti, who is reportedly challenging the request, told Gazzetta del Sud that he would be unable to cover breaking news if forced to work from home.

A court gave Sallusti the prison sentence in 2011 for the 2007 publication by right-wing daily Libero, which he edited at the time, of a pseudonymously-penned comment expressing outrage at a Turin judge's ruling allowing a 13-year-old girl to have an abortion. Renato Farina, a deputy in Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party and a former Libero deputy editor, has since claimed responsibility for authoring the comment. Sallusti was also recently indicted in a second libel case that accused him of defaming a former military prosecutor in Padua.

Libel prosecutions remain rare in many western European countries that still criminalise defamation, but Italy has seen a number of them in recent years. A court in June sentenced a journalist and the former chief editor of the newspaper L'Alto Adige, Orfeo Donatini and Tiziano Marson, to four months in prison and payment of a 15,000 euro fine for a news story concerning 2008 investigations against a provincial councillor who sued without first asking for a correction. In May 2011, three Italian journalists were handed prison sentences in connection with a series of articles published in 2007 about an alleged investigation into the mayor of Sulmona by the Financial Crime Investigation Unit.
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