In Rome, Italy, demonstrators protest against government measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 on August 7, 2021. Two reporters were attacked covering such protests. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)

Demonstrators in Italy attack two journalists during COVID-19 protests

Berlin, September 8, 2021–Italian authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate recent attacks on journalists covering COVID-19 protests, hold those responsible to account, and ensure that reporters can cover events of public interest safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 28, a group of demonstrators protesting the government’s recent measures to curb COVID-19 in Rome surrounded Antonella Alba, a journalist working for public broadcaster Rai News 24, and cursed at her and called her a “terrorist” as she was documenting the protest, daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reported and the journalist told CPJ via email. One protester tried to snatch Alba’s mobile phone, bruising and scratching her arm, the report said. Alba said she was treated in an emergency room for her injuries and that she filed a complaint to police.

In a separate incident on August 30, as Francesco Giovannetti, a video journalist for Italian daily La Repubblica, was covering a protest against the government’s measures to curb COVID-19 in Rome, a protester threatened to leave him “lying on the ground” unless he turned off his camera, and then punched him in the face four to five times, according to reports by his employer. One report said that the police intervened and apprehended the attacker, and that Giovannetti was taken to the hospital and treated for head injuries.

“Journalists in Italy must be able to cover the COVID-19 pandemic and related protests without fear of being harassed and attacked by demonstrators,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely, and should hold to account those who attacked Antonella Alba and Francesco Giovannetti.”

Alba told CPJ that she approached the demonstrators asking very simple questions about their motives behind the demonstration. “They replied with insults, verbal offenses, and finally aggression. It was really frightening,” she said. Giovannetti did not reply to requests for comments via email and messaging app.

Demonstrators in Italy in recent days protested against the government’s Green Pass measure, which requires passengers taking certain modes of public transport or participating in other indoor group activities such as going to a gym to show a certificate proving recent vaccination against COVID-19, a negative COVID-19 test in the past 48 hours, or recovery from the virus in the last six months, Euronews reported.

CPJ emailed the press department of the Italian interior ministry, which oversees the police but did not receive a reply. On September 1, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said the government will look into implementing measures to better protect journalists from physical violence and attacks on the internet, according to Italian daily Leggo, which did not go into detail.