Academic Freedom, Political Expression
Catalan v. Romania
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The Tribunal of Turin found an anthropologist guilty of “moral complicity” in the crimes of a group opposed to the development of high-speed trains, partly on the basis of the language she had used in her thesis. Charges had been brought against two anthropologists who were researching the “No TAV” movement in Italy and, as part of this research, participated as observers in some of the group’s demonstrations. The Tribunal of Turin handed down a suspended sentence of two months imprisonment to one of the anthropologists, Roberta Chiroli, and acquitted the other. The Tribunal found that Ms. Chiroli had “consciously and willingly” participated in the illegal activities of the movement partly on the basis that she had used the first person plural, “we”, in the text of her thesis about the “No TAV” movement.
In the early 1990s, construction began in the Susa Valley for a high-speed train (TAV) that would go between Lyon and Turin. A grass-root movement, called the “No TAV” movement, formed to protest against the construction. The movement protested against what they viewed as a costly and non-environmentally friendly structure. Since the 1990s, many members and supporters of the movement had been charged with various offences such as interrupting a public service, resistance against a public official, non-authorized demonstration, private violence, trespass, possession and throwing of dangerous material, disfiguring and soiling others’ assets and also, sometimes, terrorist offences.
In this case, two anthropologists, Franca Maltese and Roberta Chiroli, spent several weeks in the Susa Valley for the purpose of writing their theses about the “No TAV” movement. Ms. Maltese and Ms. Chiroli, as part of their research, participated as observers in some of the movement’s demonstrations.
On June 14, 2013, during a demonstration, some protesters blocked a main road and others entered the premises of a company that had produced the concrete used for the high-speed rail. Protestors sprayed graffiti on some of the vehicles on the company’s premises, writing “No TAV”, “block the devastation”, “stop the construction”, “TAV = Mafia”, and “stop the destruction”. Protesters also blocked a police (Carabinieri) car, preventing it from reaching the company’s premises. Subsequently, the protesters also blocked one of the company’s trucks. Then the protesters sprayed “No TAV” on the truck’s sides and shouted to the driver not to carry concrete for the TAV. The driver of the truck later testified that he was scared for his safety. The police identified Ms. Maltese and Ms Chiroli later that afternoon during a sit-in in a train station.
The authorities alleged that they had retrieved videos and photographs depicting Ms. Maltese and Ms. Chiroli taking part in some of the activities that had taken place. For instance, they were depicted at the road-block, and leaving the site of the concrete company after the protest actions. They were both charged for complicity (Art. 110 Italian Criminal Code) in the following crimes: resistance against a public official (Art. 337 Italian Criminal Code), private violence (Art. 610 Italian Criminal Code), invasion of land and buildings (Art. 633 Italian Criminal Code), disfiguring and soiling others’ assets (Art. 639 Italian Criminal Code).
 One well known case involved the Italian writer Erri De Luca who was charged for instigating a criminal offence and finally acquitted. Another case involved the journalist Davide Falcioni, whose proceedings are on-going at the time of writing, who was charged with complicity in the acts of other activists and trespass aggravated by violence.
The Tribunal of Turin acquitted both defendants, Ms. Maltese and Ms. Chiroli, of the crime of resistance against a public official. This was because the relevant activity had taken place while Ms. Maltese and Ms. Chiroli were inside the construction company’s premises. They were also acquitted of the crime of disfiguring and soiling others’ assets, as there was no specific evidence that they directly sprayed the company’s premises.
The Tribunal of Turin then went on to accept that Ms. Maltese was a mere observer of the other alleged offences since all the video and photo material depicted her aside from the core of the demonstration. For this reason, and the lack of any other evidence contradicting her declaration of having been a mere observer of the events under charge, she was acquitted of all other charges. The Tribunal of Turin stated that the same could not be said about Ms. Chiroli. With regard to her charges, the Tribunal of Turin did not further analyse the visual material, and instead rested its findings on Ms. Chiroli’s university dissertation. In particular, the Tribunal of Turin attached weight to the use of the first person plural “we” in describing the demonstrations of June 14, 2013. Ms. Chiroli wrote “we went toward the station to take a train, […] and when two trucks arrived the protesters blocked the road shouting slogans […] and after ten minutes we stopped the road-block and walked toward the station”. This stylistic choice was found to have proven that she “consciously and willingly” took part in the relevant actions pertaining to the charge.
For these reasons, the Tribunal of Turin convicted Ms. Chiroli under Articles 110, 610 and 633 of the Italian Criminal Code (complicity in private violence and invasion of land and buildings) and handed down a suspended sentence of two months’ detention.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision restricts freedom of expression as a researcher’s expression was used as evidence of her complicity in the illegal activities of a group of demonstrators. In other words, the language used by the researcher appeared to transform her in the eyes of the court from being a mere observer to being complicit in the activities she was researching and observing. Such a finding could have a chilling effect on how observers of demonstrations and protests, such as journalists and academics, report on such activities in the future.
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