Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually 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 Expression: Detention is legitimate only in case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.
The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines from 51 to 309 euros ($56 to $340). There were no reports of enforcement of this law, or of convictions under it, during the year. On July 26, the municipal authorities of Saonara, near Padua, adopted rules penalizing public blasphemy with a 400-euro ($440) fine.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Violence and Harassment: The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by the
NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), characterized the level of violence against reporters, including verbal and physical intimidation, by private actors as “alarming,” particularly in Campania, Calabria, Apulia, Sicily, Rome, Latium, and Lazio.
The RSF reported journalists increasingly self-censored due to pressure from politicians and organized crime networks. In January, Paolo Borrometi, a journalist collaborating with the newswire Agenzia Giornalistica Italia received a threatening letter, likely from an organized crime syndicate. Borrometi had previous around-the-clock police protection, because prosecutors believed an organized crime cell was planning to kill him for his investigations into its illicit business.
The 2019 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists (PJSJ) voiced concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-fascist groups.
Although authorities generally did not participate in or condone violence or harassment against journalists, the RSF and the PJSJ condemned the former deputy prime minister for his hostile social media rhetoric about the media and journalists. On May 23, a group of riot police officers beat Stefano Origone, a reporter for the daily La Repubblica, with batons and kicked him while the journalist was covering clashes among demonstrators near a rally staged by far-right party CasaPound in Genoa. Origone suffered two broken fingers and one broken rib before another police officer stopped the beating, shouting “stop, stop, he’s a journalist.” Police opened an investigation into the incident and expressed regret.
On August 1, the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) denounced the hostility towards journalists who questioned public officials. Valerio Muzio, a journalist for a leading daily La Repubblica, videotaped police intimidating him after they noticed he was filming former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s son riding on a police jet ski, against regulations. On August 5, Chief of Police Franco Gabrielli opened an investigation into possible limitations on freedom of the press stemming from the incident. On August 4, the FNSI expressed solidarity for journalist Sandro Ruotolo, who criticized Salvini in a tweet and subsequently received threats via Twitter from other users.
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. On September 22, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) ruled, based on the European Convention on Human Rights, that journalists convicted of libel cannot be punished with imprisonment. Detention is legitimate only in case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. In August former prime minister Matteo Renzi sued Antonio Padellaro, former editor of independent daily Fatto Quotidiano, for defamation based on his likening Renzi to the former deputy prime minister during a talk show.
On March 7, the ECHR condemned the country for the jail term given to former deputy editor of the daily Libero Alessandro Sallusti for the publication of some articles in 2007. In 2012 the Court of Cassation had upheld a conviction to 14 months in prison, considered incompatible with the EU Convention on Human Rights, and a 5,000-euro ($5,500) fine.
On June 11, the weekly magazine L’Espresso reported a Milan judge acquitted journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi of defamation charges filed by the former deputy prime minister for having stated during a television show that it was impossible “to deploy Navy ships and shoot at anybody who gets closer, as proposed by the former deputy prime minister in some instances.”
Nongovernmental Impact: The RSF noted many journalists from Rome and the south claimed the mafia and local criminal gangs pressured them. On August 15 in Sulmona, unidentified individuals burned the car of Claudio Lattanzio, a photojournalist for local daily Il Centro. The FNSI also reported threats from organized crime syndicates against journalists. During the year, according to an RSF report, approximately 20 journalists received around-the-clock police protection due to threats from organized crime, while 200 others received occasional protection in 2018. In February a journalist was attacked by a group while filming an investigative story on mafia clans in Abruzzo. The same journalist was previously attacked in late 2017 while he was investigating a different mafia clan’s alleged support for radical group Casa Pound in the Roman coastal town of Ostia.
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.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian 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. On January 18, 117 persons drowned when the Italian Coast Guard referred their boat’s distress call to the Libyan Coast Guard, which did not respond. The boat was approximately 50 miles off the Libyan coast, which would have placed it in the Libyan search and rescue zone, when it sunk. Italian prosecutors investigated the Italian Coast Guard’s culpability in the incident and on February 7 determined that the Coast Guard acted in accordance with the law, and in line with its search and rescue procedures.
Media outlets reported some cases of violence against refugees. In July unknown attackers threw rocks at, and seriously injured, nine migrant farm workers on their way to work in fields near Foggia.
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 resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. On July 2, police arrested 11 members of four NGOs for alleged fraud and money laundering in the mismanagement of migration centers.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.
Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of encouraging refoulement by pressuring NGOs to limit rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and encouraging the Libyan coast guard to take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not classify this as refoulement but stated it was looking into the legality of the country’s actions. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe port” because it has not signed the applicable UN refugee conventions.
Access to Asylum: In December 2018 the previous government enacted a law sponsored by the interior minister at the time which was designed in part to reduce irregular migration to Italy and to remove humanitarian protection status for migrants. The passage of the law resulted in a higher percentage of denials of any form of protection for migrants. The law also closed the country’s ports to rescue ships the government suspected of communicating and coordinating maritime rescues off the coast of Libya with Libya-based traffickers. On January 31, a rescue ship flying the Dutch flag docked in Lampedusa without the government’s permission. Authorities arrested the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, but released her and the ship when other EU countries agreed to relocate some of the asylum seekers. On May 20, six UN experts sent a letter to the government expressing concern for the security decree’s incompatibility with the right to life and the principle of nonrefoulement. On August 5, parliament approved a migration and security decree that empowers the Ministry of Interior to prohibit NGO migrant rescue ships suspected of collaborating with traffickers from entering the country’s territorial waters. With the formation of a new government coalition in September and Salvini’s departure from government, some security decrees were under review, and most NGO rescue ships were again allowed to dock in Italian ports. From January to November 7, authorities registered 9,944 new seaborne arrivals. Between August 2018 and July 2019, the Ministry of Interior expelled 6,862 illegal migrants.
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.
Regional adjudication committees took an average of six months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. Authorities closed the largest migration centers in Sicily and Lazio, where service provided to asylum seekers was not always adequate. On July 31, migration centers hosted 105,000 migrants, a 34-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government received 16,865 asylum requests.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identifies 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. The government paired efforts to reduce migrant flows through the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels with restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.
Employment: According to the Federation of Agroindustrial Workers–an affiliate of the Italian General Labor Confederation (CGIL)–and other 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 also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.
Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees, including high-quality centers run by local authorities, although many were in larger centers of varying quality, including repurposed facilities such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. 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 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 where they lived in substandard conditions. On July 30, police forcibly evicted 400 persons, including refugees, squatting in a building in the outskirts of Turin originally built to host Olympic athletes. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees with legal status.
On June 6, hosted refugees and other migrants in Frosinone staged a demonstration against the reduction of the daily allowance provided by the government to asylum seekers in which two police were injured. On September 2, refugees and other migrants joined Italians in Foggia, Puglia, to organize a sit-in inside the building where the territorial committee meets to adjudicate asylum. Protesters drew attention to the lack of services and asked for greater scrutiny of labor exploitation in southern Italy.
Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The government offered refugees whose asylum was granted resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.
Temporary Protection: Between January and September, the government provided humanitarian protection to 16,761 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,614 persons.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: A new violence against women law adopted on July 17 imposes harsher penalties for crimes of domestic and gender-based violence. The law penalizes rape, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members), provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and helps shield abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.
Between January and June, 39 women were killed by domestic partners. On March 15, a man killed his wife and then committed suicide in Castelvetrano after she asked for a divorce.
Two sentences in March in cases of violence against women were considered too lenient because they were based on crimes of passion. In Bologna the court of appeal reduced a sentence from 30 years to 16 because the person convicted appeared to have acted in “strong emotional and passionate turmoil.” In a second case, magistrates in Genoa also reduced from 30 years to 16 the sentence for a man who killed his wife because they considered he had a “strong sense of anger, disappointment, and resentment.”
The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and it is punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment, even if the crime is committed abroad. Cases of FGM/C occurred in some immigrant communities. Experts estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 women were victims of genital mutilation and that most mutilations were performed outside the country. The European Institute for Gender Equality estimated that 15 to 24 percent of girls originating from countries where FGM/C is practiced were at risk of FGM/C in the Italy. Prosecutors often depended on coverage by NGOs and self-reporting from the migrant community to identify and prosecute FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine of up to 516 euros ($568). By law, gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are foreigners from countries of origin that do not give citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, and when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.
Child Abuse: Sexual abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The NGO Telefono Azzurro reported 4,210 cases of child abuse and 66 missing children cases in 2018. Approximately 5,700 persons, mostly teenagers, contacted its help center through social media. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor under the age of 18. Forced marriage even for religious reasons is also penalized. In a report released in February, the NGO ECPAT International estimated the rate of illegal child marriages (within the community, but not recognized by law) in the shantytowns of Rome to be as high as 77 percent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting sexual exploitation, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 5,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation. On April 3, a Bari court convicted two men respectively to six year and six months and five years and six months in prison for exploiting at least four minors as sex workers between 2010 and 2017. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of assisted minor victims of trafficking increased from 199 in 2017 to 215 in 2018.
There were reports of child pornography. On June 21, the Postal Police (under the National Police) announced an operation conducted in 10 regions to dismantle a network responsible for exchanging and selling pornographic material showing minors online and using two WhatsApp groups to entice new victims. Authorities investigated 51 persons. In 2018 Postal Police reported 532 persons allegedly involved in child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, of whom 43 were arrested.
Save the Children Italy reported 263 minors were victims of labor exploitation and approximately 2,210 minors were victims of child trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, in five of the country’s 20 regions.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 or 13 if the partner is under the age of 18 and the age gap is less than three years.
Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 1,335 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and November 4. As of June 30, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported 7,272 unaccompanied minors, of whom 93 percent were boys, present in the country. It also reported approximately 5,314 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing in 2018, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in six months’ to two years’ imprisonment, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia are sold online. On July 9, police arrested Fabio Carlo D’Allio, leader of the far-right group Legio Subalpina, for possession of weapons of war and seized knives and other weapons after raiding the homes of 10 other rightist militants.
Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including vandalism and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism of the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center (the Center) reported 158 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 7, but no violent assaults.
Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On August 7, the center reported 105 cases of insults on the internet and 181 cases of graffiti or vandalism against Jewish residents. Most episodes occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Rome, Forli, and Livorno.
On October 30, the Senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism and hate crimes; however, 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. Segre, who was expelled from school for her religion in 1938 and sent to the Nazi Auschwitz camp in 1943, noted that, “there is a mounting wave of racism and intolerance that should be stopped in all possible ways.” Subsequently, in November, the Milan prefect gave Segre a police escort after she received a wave of threats and was the target of anti-Semitic hate speech on social media culminating in a few days when Segre and her family received more than 200 hate messages per day, including statements denying the Holocaust.
On February 13, in northwestern Italy, a man insulted a Jew walking with his son and stole his kippah. When the victim reacted, the man slapped him twice and shouted anti-Semitic remarks at him.
More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges.
On June 20, police arrested 13 persons accused of mistreating a group of persons with disabilities in a rehabilitation center in Novi Ligure.
Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).
The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In February the press reported that the country’s intelligence agency warned parliament that racism and xenophobia were threats the country could face and that attacks on migrants and minorities could rise ahead of European elections in May.
On May 10, national and local police forcibly evacuated a former fireworks production facility hosting a Romani camp near Naples. More than 450 persons had illegally occupied the facility since 2016 in the absence of alternative housing. On May 21, the ECHR, after hearing a complaint by some of those affected with the support of the NGO Associazione 21 Luglio and the European Roma Rights Center, ordered the national government to provide temporary housing to 10 families; on June 5, the ECHR determined that the government had complied.
In June then-interior minister Salvini announced he planned to conduct a “census” of the Romani community and to take steps to expel noncitizen Roma. According to the Associazione 21 Luglio, housing remained a serious concern for the country’s 25,000 Roma, most of whom came from Balkan countries. A total of 15,000 persons lived in 127 authorized camps, and another 9,600, mainly Romanians and Bulgarians, lived in informal encampments primarily in Lazio and Campania.
The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services and the government enforced the law effectively. NGOs advocating for LGBTI rights reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech.
The press reported isolated cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples during the year. On June 23, a man assaulted and injured two Brazilian gay men in Pescara. When LGBTI persons reported crimes, the government investigated, but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.
In March media reported that a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was riding a public bus in Turin when a local woman verbally and physically attacked her, including violently ripping the hijab off her head.