Author and activist Roberto Saviano, whose Neapolitan mob exposé “Gomorrah” is the basis for the popular HBO Max series of the same title, was unrepentant on Tuesday during the first hearing in a defamation lawsuit being brought against him by Italy’s current right-wing prime minister Giorgia Meloni for calling her “a bastard” while blasting her stance on migrants.
“I think it’s odd that a writer is tried for his words, however harsh they may be, while defenseless individuals continue to suffer atrocious violence and constant lies,” Saviano told reporters as he exited the Rome court, where the libel trial was adjourned until Dec. 12.
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Meloni, who at the time was leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy, then an opposition party, sued Saviano shortly after a December 2020 TV interview on the RAI talk show “Piazzapulita,” in which he blasted her and fellow right-wing leader Matteo Salvini for their attempts to block migrant rescue boats. Meloni had said that Rome should “repatriate migrants and sink the boats that rescued them.”
Saviano was commenting on footage of a sea rescue operation by the Spanish NGO Open Arms, in which a six-month old baby from Guinea died before he could be airlifted to Italy.
“All the bullshit [said about NGOs], sea taxis, cruises [for migrants],” he said. “All I can say is: bastards, how could you? Meloni, Salvini: bastards.”
If convicted of the libel charge, Saviano could face up to three years’ imprisonment since libel is a criminal charge in Italy. However, it’s more likely that he would be fined or given a suspended sentence.
In the lead-up to the trial, the international writers’ association PEN urged Meloni to drop her lawsuit.
“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,” it said.
Pressure for Meloni to drop the suit has also been mounting internally in Italy. Democratic Party MP Pina Picierno, who is also vice president of the European Parliament, said in a tweet that “The right to criticize a politician in power cannot be subjected to judicial actions with the aim of silencing dissent and intimidating public opinion.”
In court the prime minister’s lawyer hinted that Meloni, who was appointed the country’s leader last month, may indeed chose to stand down.
“I taught my son that the word ‘bastard’ is an offense, however we will evaluate whether to withdraw the lawsuit,” her lawyer Luca Libra said before entering the Rome courtroom.
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