Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions under it during the year.
Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and defamation are criminal offenses punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, which may be increased if directed against a politician or government official. Public officials brought cases against journalists under libel laws. Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out.
Nongovernmental Impact: Reporters without Borders reported growing hostility toward reporters mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the same organization, approximately 20 journalists, especially in and near the South, received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists, including supporters of the Five Star Movement.
Reporters without Borders reported journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly self-censored. On July 14, the national daily La Repubblica published transcripts of conversations of organized crime bosses describing television anchorman Massimo Giletti as an annoyance. Giletti had criticized the release of more than 300 organized crime bosses and associates due to the government’s emergency measures aimed at reducing COVID-19 in prisons.
The 2020 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists cited concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-Fascist groups.
On April 8, Silvio Palazzolo, a reporter for La Repubblica, was threatened in a Facebook post by the brother of an organized crime boss detained in Sicily. Palazzolo had published an article asserting that the generosity of organized crime affiliates during the COVID-19 lockdown was aimed at increasing their infiltration in communities in Palermo. In July 2019 the National Federation of the Italian Press reported that two organized crime members were intercepted discussing a possible assault against Palazzolo. On April 18, the federation expressed solidarity with the editor of La Repubblica, Carlo Verdelli. According to investigators, Verdelli was the target of multiple Twitter attacks by far-right groups between January and April. On February 2, the founder and former editor of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, received six letters containing insults.
The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 83 cases of threats against journalists between January and June, of which approximately half were published online.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, part of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals and the fear of possible COVID-19 contagion affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation of asylum seekers, especially in the agriculture and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).
The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. In June the Ministry of Interior suspended its contract with an NGO that managed a migration center in Cosenza after one of its managers was accused of corruption in an organized crime investigation.
Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when it renewed the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration with Libya on February 2. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants in Libyan waters and take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” in light of the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, the lack of protection from abuses, and the lack of durable solutions.
Access to Asylum: On April 7, the minister for infrastructure and transportation signed a decree stating that Italian ports could not guarantee to meet the requirements to qualify as place of safety for migrants rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area due to the massive outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. The decree effectively continued the highly restrictive policy of former deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini. On May 6, the coast guard seized two humanitarian ships, one German and one Spanish, ostensibly because their equipment was inadequate.
NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services.
On October 5, the government adopted a decree reintroducing humanitarian protections for migrants who face risk of life in their countries of origin and authorizing local authorities to provide legal residency to asylum seekers, allowing them to access public services, such as health care and education. Regional adjudication committees took an average of five months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. On July 31, migration centers hosted 85,000 migrants, a 19-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government reviewed 71,700 asylum applications.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.
Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 180 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. On March 24, in order to prevent COVID-19 contagion in the expulsion centers, the ombudsman for detainees asked the government to free some of the 381 irregular migrants who could not be repatriated and who were detained in expulsion centers. The government worked to reduce migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and imposed restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.
Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 national lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.
Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees in centers of varying quality, from high-quality centers run by local authorities to repurposed facilities, such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. Some rescued asylum seekers were quarantined off Sicily’s coast aboard cruise ships leased by the government. Some refugees who tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized in military facilities. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported refugees had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.
Some refugees and asylum seekers working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions. On April 9, authorities in Rome found at least 16 COVID-19-positive refugees squatting in a building with 600 other persons. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The COVID-19 lockdown caused an increase in unemployment among refugees and asylum seekers. The government offered refugees resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.
Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.