Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
Perozo and others v. Venezuela
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
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The court of first-instance in Rome, Italy, sentenced an alleged mafia member to six years in prison for assaulting an investigative journalist during an interview. In November 2017, an Italian broadcast journalist, Daniele Piervincenzi, had gone to a gym in Ostia, Rome, to interview a supposed local mafioso about his support for a neo-fascist political party, Casapound, which had made considerable gains in the area during the municipal elections. While Mr. Piervincenzi was asking about Mr. Spada’s connections with the local mafia, Mr. Spada headbutted the journalist and beat him with a club. Mr. Spada was subsequently charged with having caused personal injury and private violence. The first-instance court held that the attack was intended to stop Mr. Piervincenzi from carrying out his journalistic activities. The court also found that the methods used to intimidate Mr. Piervincenzi were associated with typical acts of aggression used by the mafia, and they were an aggravating factor mandating a higher penalty. As well as the prison sentence, the court also awarded damages to the journalist, two journalism NGOs, and two NGOs working on stopping the mafia. For the Region of Lazio and the City of Rome, the court found that Mr. Spada’s behavior had created a climate of fear for citizens and awarded them damages also.
Daniele Piervincenzi is an Italian journalist who, at the time of the present case, was working on the TV program “Nemo-nessuno Escluso”, which was broadcast on the national television channel “Rai Due”. On November 7, 2017, Mr. Piervincenzi and a cameraman/ producer, Edorardo Anselmi, went to Ostia, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome, to report on the incredible gains made by the neo-fascist political party Casapound in the municipal elections for the 10th Roman Town Hall (“decimo municipio romano”). Mr. Piervincenzi wanted to interview Roberto Spada, an alleged mafioso who had publicly shown his support for Casapound by posting pictures on Facebook of him with two party leaders. Based on research he conducted, Mr. Piervincenzi believed Mr. Spada was the boss in control of the local mafia clan in Ostia. Mr. Spada lived in Nuova Ostia, an area which was known to be multicultural and a surprising area to find such strong support for the neo-fascist political party Casapound.
On November 7, 2017, Mr. Piervincenzi and Mr. Anselmi went to “Femus Boxe”, a gym owned by Mr. Spada, to conduct an interview with him. During the interview, which took place just outside the gym, Mr. Spada evaded questions about his support for Casapound. Nevertheless, he was initially polite and talked with the two journalists about other topics such as journalism, the TV report they were preparing and other people they could interview. Mr. Piervincenzi also noticed a very tall man dressed in black who came to the gym, who he believed was there to “watch over” the premises and act as a personal bodyguard to Mr. Spada. Neither the tall man nor Mr. Spada ever asked the journalists to turn off their camera. Mr. Piervincenzi noticed that Mr. Spada became very irritated by their presence when they continued to ask him about his links to Casapound. He apparently threatened them, saying they should be careful as they may lose their car if they persisted with their line of questioning. Then, he took a club and walked towards the entrance of the gym while continuing to respond to questions. When Mr. Piervincenzi tried to follow him into the gym while asking about his mafia connections, Mr. Spada violently headbutted Mr. Piervincenzi and broke his nose. Mr. Spada then proceeded to beat him with the club around his neck and back. The “bodyguard” also attacked Mr. Piervincenzi, and beat Mr. Anselmi when he fell to the ground. The journalists eventually managed to get away from the two men while Mr. Spada yelled “I’m fucking sick of you, you have been here for three hours, you have to leave now”. As they were approaching their car, a local boy noticed the blood on Mr. Piervincenzi’s face and clothes and said, “[t]his is what happens when you come to bust balls in Ostia”.
The two journalists noted that during the assault the streets were empty around Mr. Spada’s gym and they saw many windows being closed at the time of the incident. Once back in their car, they decided not to go to the nearby hospital in Ostia fearing it was under the control of Mr. Spada’s mafia clan. Instead, they went all the way to Rome city center. Mr. Piervincenzi was later questioned by the Ostia police, but the interview took place in a police station away from the neighborhood as he feared for his and his family’s safety.
The Public Prosecutor in Rome brought criminal proceedings against Mr. Spada and Alvez Del Puerto Ruben Nelson (Mr. Spada’s “bodyguard”) for alleged violation of Articles 582 (personal injury) and 610 (private violence) of the Italian Penal Code. The Prosecutor considered that the offences were aggravated by the mafia undertones to the threats and their reference to Mr. Spada’s association with the local mafia clan. The Prosecutor argued that the level of control Mr. Spada had over the local area could be inferred from his conduct in ordering the journalists to leave the area, even though they were in a public place.
The case had a number of third-party interveners, namely the Region of Lazio (of which Ostia is part), the Italian Association of Journalists (Ordine dei Giornalisti), the Federation of the Press (FNSI), the Association for the Fight against Illegality and the Mafia “Antonio Caponnetto”, the Association “Libera contro le Mafie” (an Italian NGO fighting against the mafia), and the City of Rome.
The first-instance court in Rome (Court) began by stating that the evidence provided in the case clearly showed that journalist Daniele Piervincenzi had suffered injuries caused by Roberto Spada. Moreover, the Court stated that the evidence acquired during the trial (including medical reports, and the video recording of the incident) demonstrated that the contested crimes amounted to personal injury and private violence.
The Court found that the violent actions of Mr. Spada were taken with the intention of stopping Mr. Piervincenzi’s questions and to force him to leave the gym. The Court further noted that Mr. Spada was aware that he was talking with a journalist for a professional interview, and that Mr. Piervincenzi conducted the interview in line with journalistic ethics and there was no evidence that he had put any undue pressure on Mr. Spada to reply. Therefore, the Court found no provocation in Mr. Piervincenzi’s conduct and dismissed the defendants’ arguments to the contrary.
The Court also found that the offence was aggravated by the mafia-style tactics adopted by Mr. Spada. It observed that criminal organizations were known for employing methods of intimidation, including referring to their mafia affiliation, to exert psychological pressure on a person to persuade him/her to perform some act or omission. The Court also noted that the area where the incident in the case occurred was controlled by the mafia clan based in Ostia. In fact, the two journalists were in the areas and conducting the interview because they were interested in reporting on the mafia’s control of an area where Casapound gained considerable support.
The Court went on by stating that Mr. Spada was aware that his support for Casapound had drawn media attention as, around the time of Mr. Piervincenzi’s interview, other journalists had tried to interview him with very similar questions. The Court also noted that when Mr. Piervincenzi’s questions explored his affiliation with the mafia and his alleged leadership of the local clan, he evaded those questions rather than openly deny the allegations. Furthermore, his behavior clearly portrayed his belief that he was “in charge” and acting from a position of power. The Court highlighted that the violence started when the journalist asked: “[a]ren’t you bothered by the fact that people consider you as part of clan Spada? You have never been subject to court proceedings for such an alleged affiliation.” The Court also noted the language Mr. Spada used when threatening the journalists, such as when he suggested others would damage their car. It also noted that Mr. Spada let the journalists know he was in control by dictating when questions could and could not be asked. These factors, and the ensuing violence, were deemed to be typical acts of aggression associated with members of the mafia and, as a result of these factors, the two journalists were too frightened to return to Ostia again. The link between the violence and the activities of the mafia were found to be aggravating factors mandating a higher penalty.
In light of the foregoing, the Court condemned Mr. Spada to six years imprisonment and ordered for the payment of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages to Mr. Piervincenzi and Mr. Anselmi. The Court also awarded non-pecuniary damages to the Region of Lazio and the City of Rome as Mr. Spada’s conduct had created an environment of fear for citizens living in that area. It similarly awarded damages to the other third-party interveners, namely the Italian Association of Journalists (Ordine Dei Giornalisti), the Federation of the Press (FNSI), the Association for the Fight against Illegality and the Mafia “Antonio Caponnetto”, and the Association “Libera Contro le Mafie”.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision constituted an important precedent in the Italian case-law related to threats and attacks on journalists reporting about the mafia. This case is notable as the defendant was given a higher penalty because of his use of mafia methods of intimidation. By way of general information, 90% of attacks against journalists in Italy are met with impunity (Ossigeno per l’Informazione’s statistics calculated on October 2018). This case shows a positive trend in Italian domestic courts. In 2018, the domestic courts have started imposing higher penalties against journalists’ attackers because of their use of “mafia methods”. The domestic courts have also demonstrated a willingness to award damages to NGOs or municipalities particularly affected by the mafia’s violence against journalists. In the same month as this incident, the Ministry of Interior announced the creation of a Coordination Centre on Attacks against Journalists as a reaction to the attack. However, the measure was never implemented due to the end of the Parliamentary term in March 2018.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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