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Italy: European Parliament ‘Mafia’ defamation row set for human rights court judgement

Legal wrangling in Italy’s courts following an allegation of defamation, reaches the European Court of Human Rights for judgement tomorrow.

Strasbourg judges will deliver their decision on a complaint by David Petrie, the British Chair of the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy (ALLSI), that a decision by the Italian authorities to dismiss his action for defamation amounted to unjustified interference with his right to protection of his reputation and his right to respect for his private life.

Petrie v. Italy (no. 25322/12)

The applicant, David Petrie, is a United Kingdom national who was born in 1951 and lives in Verona.

On 26 February 1997, at a hearing of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament concerning the position of non-Italian foreign lecturers working in Italian universities,
Petrie made the following remarks: “Now, how does this happen? It happens because there is a system in Italy, and it’s difficult to translate, the word is ‘raccomandazioni’, it comes from the word
‘to recommend’.” X, Director-General of the department for university autonomy in the Italian Ministry of Universities and Scientific and Technological Research, and Y, a university Vice-Chancellor, were also present at the meeting.

On 23 January 1998, Petrie took part in a public meeting organised by the University of Bologna during which X stated that “a lecturer present in the auditorium [had] accused Italy, in the European
Parliament Committee in Brussels, of being a country run by the Mafi.a”

Believing himself to have been accused, Petrie replied that he had never used the word “Mafia”, and asked X to withdraw his remarks. Y then intervened, claiming that X’s remarks were true. X and Y refused to withdraw their statements.

On 4 July 1998, Petrie brought an action for damages in the Bologna District Court against X and Y, claiming that they had attributed remarks to him which he had never made and that his reputation, honour and personal identity had been damaged. On 6 April 2002 the District Court allowed his claims, finding that Petrie had not said that Italy was “a country run by the Mafia.”

It ordered X and Y jointly to pay Petrie 19,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 6,520 in legal costs. X and Y appealed against that judgment to the Bologna Court of Appeal,
which allowed their appeal and dismissed Petrie’s action for defamation. Petrie was ordered to repay the court costs incurred by X and Y (EUR 4,500). He appealed unsuccessfully on points of
law.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Petrie argues that the dismissal of his action for defamation amounted to unjustified interference with his right to protection of his reputation and his right to respect for his private life.

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