08 November 2022 – On 15 November 2022, writer, journalist, and PEN award winner Roberto Saviano will stand trial in Rome on charges of defaming Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s Prime Minister and leader of Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist roots, over a speech that criticized the far-right leader after she said that NGO boats attempting to rescue refugees in the central Mediterranean should be sunk and migrants left adrift at sea. Saviano is being sued under Article 595 of the Italian Penal Code, which carries up to three years in prison.
Ahead of the hearing, PEN International President Burhan Sonmez urges Prime Minister Meloni to drop all criminal defamation charges against Saviano and to abide by Italy’s national and international obligations to uphold freedom of expression. The letter is also available in Italian and was first published in La Stampa. PEN International contacted the Prime Minister’s Office on 4 November; they had not yet responded at the time of publication.
Dear Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni,
I am writing on behalf of PEN International, the global association of writers dedicated to promoting literature and defending freedom of expression, to express my grave concerns for fellow writer Roberto Saviano, who faces up to three years in prison on criminal defamation charges. We urge you to drop the case against him and to do everything in your power to support investigative journalism and independent media.
Saviano has been repeatedly targeted for peacefully expressing his views. The latest charges against him are sadly representative of a worrying trend in Italy, where journalists and writers work in the knowledge that they might be sued and imprisoned for what they say or what they write.
Despite calls by Italy’s Constitutional Court to undertake a comprehensive review of criminal defamation laws, journalists and writers are still liable to prison sentences in case of defamation through the press. Criminal defamation lawsuits exhaust their victims. They rob them of their time, of their money, of their vital energy. Crucially, they are punitive and can lead to self-censorship and discourage the investigative journalism that is so necessary in a healthy and functioning democracy. They constitute a threat to freedom of expression – which is enshrined in Italy’s domestic and international human rights obligations.
As the Prime Minister of Italy, pursing 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.
Saviano is not alone. We stand with him and will continue to campaign until all criminal defamation charges against him are dropped, and his right to peacefully express his views is upheld once and for all.
PEN International President