Italy's Matteo Salvini pursues criminal defamation against journalist Roberto Saviano

March 29, 2019 1:54 PM ET

Roberto Saviano seen at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin on February 12, 2019. Saviano is facing criminal defamation charges issued by Italy's interior minister. (Annegret Hilse/Reuters)

Berlin, March 29, 2019 -- The Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, should immediately drop criminal defamation charges against freelance investigative journalist and author Roberto Saviano, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Salvini filed a criminal defamation suit against the journalist in July 2018; on March 20, Saviano announced that the case will be going to trial, according to an op-ed and video he published in the Italian daily La Repubblica.

Criminal defamation of a politician can be punished by a fine or a prison sentence of up to six years, according to the Italian penal code.

"As a senior public official, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini should expect and endure criticism, rather than demonize a journalist for doing his job," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said in New York. "Italy should have scrapped criminal defamation from its books long ago -- it has no place in a democracy. We call on Salvini to immediately drop these charges against Roberto Saviano."

The date for the trial has not been set, according to Saviano's posts on La Repubblica.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister and leader of the right-wing League party, announced on July 19, 2018, that he had filed a lawsuit against the journalist over tweets in which Saviano described him as "minister of the underworld" and implied that he was connected with the mafia, according to The Guardian.

CPJ emailed Salvini and the Italian Interior Ministry for comment on the case and on Saviano's allegations, and did not immediately receive a response.

The journalist's criticism came after Salvini threatened to remove Saviano's police protection, the English-language Italian news site The reported. Saviano has lived under police protection since publishing his mafia exposé Gomorrah in 2006, according to The

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