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Council of Europe concern over Italian jail terms for libel

Prison reintroduced as punishment in bill

Council of Europe concern over Italian jail terms for libel

Rome, November 13 - The Council of Europe on Wednesday expressed concern about the possibility that Italian journalists can continue to face prison sentences for libel because of an amendment to a bill in parliament. The bill was meant to remove jail terms as a possible sanction for the offence and raise fines following the uproar caused by the supreme Court of Cassation decision to uphold a 14-month prison term for liable for newspaper editor Alessandro Sallusti. But the bill was amended in a secret vote in the Senate on Tuesday and prison terms were reinstated. Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, told ANSA that he was following the bill's progress through parliament with "great worry". He added that keeping prison as a possible punishment for journalists guilty of libel would be a "big step backwards". Sallusti, who has not yet been sent to prison, was convicted for printing libellous remarks made by an anonymous reader about Italian judge Giuseppe Cocilovo in 'Libero', the right-wing paper he edited in 2007. The comments concerned the decision by Cocilovo to grant a 13-year-old the right to have an abortion. ''If there were the death penalty, and if it were ever applicable in a situation, this would be the case. For the parents, the gynecologist and the judge,'' wrote the anonymous reader, who used the pseudonym 'Dreyfus'. The Court of Cassation ruled that Sallusti was responsible for the comment since the identity of the writer was unknown. Renato Farina, the former deputy editor of 'Libero' and now a deputy in ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, subsequently admitted to penning the libellous remarks. The court decision sparked freedom-of-expression protests from Italian journalists of all leanings and prompted Justice Minister Paola Severino and President Giorgio Napolitano to agree on the need to amending Italy's libel laws. photo: Alessandro Sallusti

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