Meanwhile, Italy is not very reluctant to impose prison sentences on journalists: in the last five years, at least 18 custodial sentences for a total of thirty years' imprisonment have been declared. Defamation cases continue to be used in uncontested ways as improper weapons to intimidate journalists.
The Parliamentary inconsistency is shocking. Firstly, the draft bill that proposes the abolition of the prison sentence for defamation was already voted and approved – by the Senate and the House of Representatives – and now awaits only the final vote by the very Senate that instead prepares to pass a bill which demands the opposite. Secondly, the inconsistency is absolute because at the same moment both the House and the Senate have unanimously decided otherwise. They propose to delete the very norm on which the new bill is now based.
The “caste privilege”
The additional three years of prison would be applied to those found guilty of defamation with the intention of threat or retaliation against mayors, local officials, magistrates and other representatives of the political, administrative or judicial body. The sentence would be applied as an aggravating circumstance to what is already provided by the fourth paragraph of Article 595 of the Criminal Code, a paragraph that both houses have decided to lift with the bill that awaits final approval.
Some experts say, reassuringly, that this existing paragraph allows courts to raise jail sentences to that higher level and that the Senate only wants to extend the application to other subjects. However, they did not mention that this aggravating circumstance is largely unenforced because, for some time, the legal culture did not accept special prerogatives granted to political and administrative bodies as such privileges were considered to be left over from the old regimes that protected those in power.
The new bill is therefore significantly nicknamed a "caste privilege" as it exalts public officials. It contradicts all commitments solemnly undertaken by the parliament and the government to comply with the repeated and insistent calls by international institutions to decriminalise defamation and judge future cases according to civil law. The Italian Parliament just recently managed to change the law on insults and abandoned prison sentences for such offences.
Conflict with European legal standards
It should also be noted that these standards are censored by the European Court of Human Rights and that consequently the bill presented in 2012 to abolish the prison sentence provides for the abolition of that specific rule, that this abolition has already been voted on and approved in the first reading, both by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic and therefore, according to parliamentary rules, it can no longer be edited or changed.
Also on 9 December 2013, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe applauded the abolition as welcome move as "the political discussion, as well as fair and responsible criticism directed at public figures, as part of debate of public interest, should enjoy maximum protection " (ebook).
The fact that the new legislation even wants to extend the privilege to the individual members of these political and administrative bodies multiplies its scope and the chilling effect.