Vatileaks verdict welcomed by media freedom campaigns

by Alberto Spaminato
The so-called  Vatileaks 2 trial shows how, even in a western country that is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) journalists can be accused of serious crime by judges from other countries and must defend themselves in front of foreign courts. They suffer because they have to pay high expenses (often not supported from publishers) to defend themselves. They risk being sentenced to prison even when the prosecutors recognise they did their job correctly, by gathering information on facts of public interest and publishing them in the public interest.

All these contradictions emerged clearly within the Vatileaks 2 trial held in Vatican City from November 2015 to July 2016.

By good fortune, and as a consequence of strong protests from institutions and journalists’ groups, the trial ended well. The court refused to sentence the Italian journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, because the court declared it has no territorial competence on acts that occurred abroad and on private foreign citizens. This was the happy ending.

But still for eight months the two reporters were paid on heavy charges and risked up to eight years in prison.

They were charged by the authorities of the Holy See (The Pope’s government in Vatican City, which is a separate state from Italy). The charge was the crime of dissemination of news and confidential documents, as prescribed by law number IX of the State of the Vatican City, of July 13, 2013 (Article 116 bis of Penal Code).

Only during the last sittings of the trial was the allegation changed to another one: that of ’a moral behavior that encouraged others to commit a crime by revealing confidential documents.’

Moreover the Vatican prosecutor asked the Court to sentence one of the journalists to 12 months in jail.

Since November 2015, the investigating authorities of the Vatican City were looking into the responsibility of journalists from another country, the Italians Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi. They are the authors of two investigative books that reveal some episodes of outrageous use of Vatican finances.

When the journalists were charged, Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, made a strong appeal to the authorities of the Vatican State, which is a member of the OSCE, for the withdrawal of the criminal charges laid against the reporters. "Journalists must be free to report on matters of public interest and to protect their confidential sources. I urge the authorities not to proceed with the charges and to protect the rights of journalists in accordance with OSCE commitments", Mijatović said.

Meanwhile the Italian authorities keep silent on the whole matter, for diplomatic reasons. But one hundred MPs signed a protest letter asking Vatican not to charge the Italian journalists that, as was clear, had only done their job.

On July 6, 2016, the Vatican prosecutor asked the court to not charge them with leaking information but instead with moral complicity in the disclosure of confidential information and for strengthening the intention of the other defendants to disclose confidential information.

Then the prosecutor asked the Court to acquit Fittipaldi because there was not enough evidence of his responsibility, and to sentence Nuzzi to one year in jail but suspending the execution of the penalty.

Three Vatican officials who were involved in supplying the information were also on trial. The Court sentenced

Spanish priest Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda to an 18-month sentence and PR manager Francesca Chaouqui, who has a three-week-old son, was given a 10-month suspended sentence.

The fifth defendant, Nicola Maio, an assistant to Vallejo, was found not guilty.

(Alberto Spampinato - Ossigeno per l’Informazione)

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