a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to safeguard freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: 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 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: The law criminalizes defamation and libel with penalties of up to three years in prison. On June 22, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional a law punishing libel and defamation with up to six years of imprisonment if committed through the press and consisting of “attribution of a specific fact.” Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out, but on April 21, a Rome judge sentenced a former editor and a journalist of daily newspaper La Repubblica to pay 50,000 euros ($57,500) to former interior minister Matteo Salvini as compensation for an article regarding a canceled trip to Israel.
Nongovernmental Impact: The NGO Reporters without Borders stated there was growing hostility toward reporters, mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the NGO, approximately 20 journalists – mostly in Rome and 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.
Police reported 123 cases of intimidation against journalists between January and July compared with 103 during the same period in 2020. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) alleged some attacks against reporters. It reported that on April 11, an unidentified man attacked Rete-4 TV reporter Carmen La Gatta and two support staffers while they were conducting interviews in the northwestern city of Cuneo, using physical force including a metal chain to attack the reporting team and the vehicle in which they were traveling. According to the CPJ, on August 28, a mob in Rome protesting the country’s measures against COVID-19 surrounded Antonella Alba, a journalist working for public broadcaster Rai News 24. The mob harassed her verbally, assaulted and injured her physically, and tried to steal her cell phone.
The CPJ also reported that on August 30, at another rally in Rome against the anti-COVID-19 measures, a protester threatened to leave Francesco Giovannetti, a video journalist for La Repubblica, “lying on the ground” unless he turned off his camera. The protester then punched Giovannetti in the face four or five times. One report stated police intervened and apprehended the attacker and that Giovannetti was taken to the hospital and treated for head injuries.
Reporters without Borders reported that journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly chose to self-censor out of fear. In February and April, the editor of the Livorno-based daily Il Tirreno reported verbal attacks, threats, and a physical assault against journalists at the newspaper. The newspaper also received a tape recording threatening a violent attack against the newsroom.
On April 15, a Bari court convicted a member of an organized crime gang to 16 months in jail for violence and threats against Maria Grazia Mazzola, a journalist from the national broadcaster Rai.
The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 110 cases of threats made against journalists between January and June, 18 of which were made by organized crime gangs and 36 of which were made by extremist political organizations.
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.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection for refugees.
Through December 13, a total of 63,062 seaborne irregular migrants had entered the country, compared with 32,919 during the same period in 2020. The increase, together with the fear of possible COVID-19 transmission, affected the ability of authorities to provide housing and other services to migrants and asylum seekers. The Italian Red Cross was responsible for managing migrants during their period of COVID-19 quarantine.
Authorities regularly authorized disembarkation of migrants rescued by NGO ships despite an April 2020 decree by the minister for infrastructure and transportation stating that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italian ports could not guarantee that they meet the requirements to qualify as places of safety for migrants who were rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area. NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistencies in the application of standards in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to appropriate, adequate services. NGOs asserted authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified within the system and classified instead as asylum seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation.
Some territorial adjudication committees took more than one year to process asylum claims, due in part to preventive measures adopted in response to COVID-19. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to three years.
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.
Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when, on February 7, it renewed with Libya the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to seize vessels carrying migrants in Libyan waters to take them back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” due to the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya including the lack of protection from abuses, the lack of durable solutions, and a heightened risk of trafficking facing migrants forced to remain in Libya.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to seize migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed the Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.
The IOM, UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation, including labor trafficking, of asylum seekers, especially in the agricultural and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, 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. On March 9, police arrested three persons and investigated another five accused of fraud and money laundering in Frosinone. They were suspected of holding migrants in overcrowded facilities in unhealthy conditions and inflating official reports of the center’s population in order to receive public funds.
Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 120 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from a deportation order or predeportation jail sentence. The ombudsman for detainees noted that only half of the migrants in expulsion centers were repatriated in 2020 and lamented the lack of independent monitoring of the centers and judicial remedies for abuses. The government worked to reduce the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and restricted their movement for up to 72 hours after they arrived at 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 lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported that 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 that these persons 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 in substandard conditions.
Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. Many asylum seekers moved to other European countries; based on conversations at welcome centers in Catania, Sicily, most Tunisians sought to move to France or Germany, while in contrast, most Bangladeshis sought to remain in the country. The government offered refugees resettlement services, while both 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.
g. Stateless Persons
According to UNHCR, at the end of 2020 approximately 3,000 stateless persons lived in the country. Most of them were children born in Italy to parents coming from the former Yugoslavia. The law gives Italian citizenship to children born in Italy to stateless individuals, both of whom must have obtained formal recognition of stateless status. Otherwise, Italian citizenship will not be conferred upon the child at birth, and the child will be born stateless. The law provides that individuals formally recognized as stateless may request to become naturalized citizens after five years of legal residence in the country.
According to the NGO Tavola Apolidia, many stateless individuals reported difficulty in obtaining their rights, due to the low level of knowledge in the country’s administrative bodies concerning statelessness. Individuals who are stateless but have not received stateless status do not receive fundamental rights such as the rights to work; to go to school; to own property; or to receive welfare, identity documents, and travel documents. They were also at risk of detention and expulsion.