“Gomorrah” author Roberto Saviano to go on trial Tuesday over defamation charges brought by far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – Deadline

Italian writer, journalist and political commentator Roberto Saviano is due to appear in court in Rome on Tuesday (November 15th) for the first hearing in a defamation lawsuit brought against him by Italy’s newly appointed right-wing prime minister, Giorgia Meloni.

The case is related to an incident that took place before Meloni took power in Italy in October.

Meloni is suing Saviano over comments he made on the current affairs show Piazza Pulita in December 2020, during a discussion about the phenomenon of asylum seekers on its shores in small boats, in which he referred to her as “shit” for a hardline, anti-immigrant.

The judge charged before the preliminary investigation of the case that the “noble freak” had gone “beyond the rights of political criticism” and gave the green light to the trial.

The trial is seen as a test case for Italian freedom of expression and the growing use of defamation charges as a way to stifle the media.

Saviano is best known internationally for his research work in 2006 Gomorrah, about the organized crime group in Naples, the Camorra. The book infuriated crime bosses and led to a series of death threats that led to Saviano being given police protection.

Italian director Matteo Garrone adapted the work, along with Saviano, into a fictional series of the same name that won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008. The book was also the basis for a six-season high-profile series, produced by Sky. Italia, Fandango, Cattleya and Beta and directed by Stefano Sollima, Francesca Comencini and Claudio Cupellini.

When Saviano made the comments in 2020, the drowning of a six-month-old baby when a passenger he was traveling in overturned was in the news in Italy, after the Spanish NGO that rescued his mother decided to release a video showing her plight.

The child was among six people who died overnight in a year when an estimated 1,881 died trying to cross the Mediterranean by various routes, according to the refugee agency UNHCR.

In the last months before this event, Meloni, the leader of Italy, and Matteo Salvini, the leader of the National League party, which is now a coalition partner in her government, had aimed at charity ships patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to save people in distress at sea, referring to it. to them as “traveling taxis” and said they should be tied up and sunk.

Speaking about the dead child and his mother, Saviano criticized the couple, saying: “You remember all this rubbish that was said about NGOs, about them being ‘sea taxis’, ‘cruises.’ The only thing that comes to mind is jerks. To Meloni, to Salvini, bastards, how could you? How could all this pain be described like that?”

Saviano remains unrepentant about his comments despite the looming trial and has continued to lash out at Meloni and her new government, recently condemning her immigration policies as well as the recent introduction of a law carrying prison terms of up to six years. for organizers of illegal raves.

In a recent interview on Rome radio station Radio Capital, Saviano revealed that Salvino and new Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano had also filed defamation lawsuits against him.

He hinted that they were targeting him to warn other journalists who wanted to criticize members of the government and its coalition parties.

“These were all complaints for defamation, related to the fact that I expressed my very strong criticism of them. They are hitting me to get the message across to my colleagues and above all to manipulate, to make it appear that harsh and brutal criticism of a politician can be taken in the same context as a comment you make to an ordinary citizen,” he said. . said.

“There is another idleness going on here, namely this: “If you criticize me, you are going against democracy itself because it is the voting that allows me to do what I do. So, your behavior is illegitimate.” This is very dangerous because democracy is not only based on voting, which is a fundamental element of democracy, but above all is based on respect for criticism,” he continued.

“Behind this game there is something scary and that is if you criticize me after the country is with me and I have the majority, you are wrong.”

Tuesday’s hearing follows a flare-up in the debate over how best to deal with people trying to reach Europe from North Africa in small boats after Meloni’s government blocked three rescue ships carrying hundreds of rescued migrants from disembarking in its ports.

The new policy led to one ship being diverted to the French port of Toulon, after three weeks at sea, in a move that has led to a diplomatic spat between France and Italy.

Writers’ group Pen International has urged Meloni to drop the charges in an open letter published online and in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

“As Italy’s prime minister, pursuing your case against him would send a chilling message to all journalists and writers in the country, who may no longer dare to speak out for fear of reprisals,” wrote Burhan Sonmez, president of Pen International.

“Saviano is not alone. We stand with him and will continue to fight until all defamation charges against him are dropped and his right to peaceful expression is vindicated once and for all.”

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