CLOSE

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

Italian Investigative Journalist Acquitted of Unfounded Libel Charges

Italian Investigative Journalist Acquitted of Unfounded Libel Charges

A Rome court has acquitted freelance investigative journalist Raffaella Cosentino of aggravated libel. The charges were brought against her for an article she wrote about corruption and exploitation in asylum centres in Italy. Her case was supported by Media Defence.

Ms Cosentino is a journalist whose reporting covers human rights issues with a particular focus on migrants and asylum seekers. At the time she was working freelance; writing for the Italian online newspaper, Espresso, as well as other outlets including the BBC.

On 2 October 2015, Espresso published an article written by Ms Cosentino in which she detailed alleged corruption and exploitation at the Sant’Anna asylum centre in Isola Capo Rizzuto, Italy, one of the largest reception centres in Europe.  Sant’Anna is run by the organisation La Misericordia, which is also responsible for several other asylum centres across Italy, including the reception centre on Lampedusa.

Ms Cosentino’s article contained details of mismanagement and ill-treatment of asylum seekers at Sant’Anna, including sub-standard living conditions, mistreatment of pregnant women and unaccompanied minors, and fraudulent claims for funds for daily meals delivered by an organisation called Quadrifoglio. Ms Cosentino’s article was one of a number of articles at the time reporting on corruption and alleged mafia involvement in the management of asylum centres across the country.

On 22 December 2015 Quadrifoglio filed a complaint against Ms Cosentino. Shortly after, on 29 April 2016, the Prosecutor of Crotone, in Calabria, initiated proceedings against her for aggravated libel. Ms Cosentino’s status as a freelance journalist meant that without funding she would have been unable to undertake the difficult and expensive task of defending herself against these charges. Had she been convicted Ms Cosentino would have faced fines of up to €20,000 or up to three years’ imprisonment. With the assistance of Italian press freedom organisation Ossigeno per l’informazione (Oxygen for Information – one of Media Defence’s national media defence centre partners), Ms Cosentino was able to secure funding from Media Defence to hire a local lawyer, Andrea Di Pietro, to successfully defend her case.

Ms Cosentino’s case is representative of a wider pattern of harassment of independent journalists in Italy, including through the use of criminal defamation prosecutions – despite increasing recognition that criminal defamation laws are incompatible with international standards on freedom of expression. Ms Cosentino’s acquittal comes as a welcome victory for freedom of expression, and is an important recognition of the critical role of investigative journalism as a ‘public watchdog’ in a democratic society.

Ms Cosentino said:

“I was a freelance at that time. I knew that I was taking risks in writing the story but, to be honest, I thought more about the physical risks than being sued, because I was quite sure of the evidence I had found. It was, to me, a huge help and a relief to have the free legal assistance from a very good lawyer, Andrea Di Pietro, thanks to Ossigeno and MLDI’s support. Thanks to this support I never felt alone or intimidated during the last three years. It’s fundamental for freelance journalists who are not backed by a media company to get this free legal assistance. This is a shield to protect freedom of information.”

Ms Cosentino was represented by Italian lawyer, Andrea Di Pietro, and supported by Ossigeno per l’informazione in Italy and Media Defence in London.

Recent Case Studies

Freedom of Expression in Eastern Europe: Hungary and Poland

Three journalists, two small tables and a coffee machine tucked away inside a building in downtown Pecs, Hungary. This is the bare-bones set-up of Szabad Pecs, a website that bills itself as the only independent news source in southwest Hungary. Their newsroom is sparse because it’s all they can afford. In recent years, the government […]

Read

Citizen Journalist Elena Popa

In many respects, Elena Popa is a typical Romanian domestic carer working in Austria.

Read

Press Freedom in Azerbaijan: ECtHR Delivers Judgment in the Case of Khadija Ismayilova

The European Court of Human Rights has delivered its judgment today in the case of award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The Court held that Azerbaijan had arbitrarily detained Khadija, in order to prevent her working as a journalist, and had violated her right to the presumption of innocence, when it arrested her on trumped up charges in December 2014 and held her in pre-trial detention until May 2016.

Read