Court: Italy’s jailing of journalist for defamation was “manifestly inappropriate”

Imprisoning a well-known Italian journalist following his conviction for defamation was “manifestly disproportionate,” human rights judges have declared.

In its 7 March judgment in the case of Sallusti v. Italy (application no. 22350/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Italy was to pay the applicant  Alessandro Sallusti, who was editor-in-chief of the Libero newspaper, 12,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 5,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

Sallusti complained to the European court that he had been found guilty of defamation, fined and given a prison sentence, part of which he served under house arrest.

This followed Libero’s publication of two articles stating that a 13-year-old girl had been forced to have an abortion by her parents and a guardianship judge.

Other media had covered the incident the previous day but they had ultimately reported that she had not been forced into the abortion but had wanted it herself.

The national courts found that articles published under his control had falsely reported that a 13-year old girl had been forced to have an abortion by her parents and a guardianship judge, despite clarifications in the press the day before that the girl had wanted the abortion.

The court found that Sallusti had tarnished the honour and privacy rights of the girl, her parents and the judge but that there had been no justification for giving him a prison sentence.

Such a sanction had gone beyond what would have amounted to a “necessary” restriction on Sallusti’s freedom of expression.

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