Police officers are seen in Catania, Italy, on October 3, 2020. Journalist Mimmo Rubio was recently threatened by a group of anti-lockdown protesters. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)

Italian journalist Mimmo Rubio threatened over coverage of COVID-19 protests, organized crime

Berlin, October 29, 2020 — Italian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the threats to journalist Mimmo Rubio and ensure his safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 19, a group of about 20 people driving scooters and demonstrating against the coronavirus lockdown in Arzano, in southern Italy, staged a protest at Rubio’s home and a nearby government building, shouting threats and insults at the journalist and yelling for him to leave the city, which forced Rubio to barricade himself in his home, according to reports by daily newspaper La Repubblica and the Italian National Press Federation, an independent trade group.

Rubio works as a freelance journalist who manages Arzano News, a Facebook page covering local issues including organized crime and protests of COVID-19 containment measures. Italian Senator Sandro Rutolo told the Italian National Press Federation that he suspected the threats were linked to local organized crime groups.

Police assigned special protection to Rubio on October 22, according to a report by Ossigeno, an Italian organization that tracks violence against journalists. In an email to CPJ, Rubio confirmed the news stories about his case but declined to comment further or specify the exact nature of the threats, saying he wanted to find “a minimum of tranquility.” 

“Italian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the threats made to journalist Mimmo Rubio, find the perpetrators, and hold them to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Rubio and all other journalists must be able to do their work, including covering organized crime, without fear or intimidation.”

Ossigeno quoted the journalist as saying that he was worried about his safety and that of his mother, who lives with him.

Previously, on October 16, a group of anti-lockdown protesters surrounded, threatened, and insulted Rubio while he was covering a demonstration, according to a report by the Unitary Union of Journalists of Campania, a regional trade group.

Local organized crime groups previously sent dozens of threatening letters to Rubio, including envelopes with bullets inside, and in 2018 people exploded fireworks outside his home, according to news reports.

CPJ emailed the municipal police in Arzano for comment but did not receive any reply.