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.
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.