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The Guardian view on the trial of Roberto Saviano: call off the dogs | Editorial

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The bullying of one of Italy’s most respected writers by Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini is an assault on press freedom

Italy’s draconian defamation laws have long been exploited by the powerful to intimidate and silence troublesome voices. Each year, thousands of proceedings are launched against investigative journalists, and the country’s constitutional court has urged much-needed reform to protect freedom of expression and the independence of the press.

The outrageous bullying of Roberto Saviano, one of Italy’s best-known writers, illustrates why such action is long overdue. Mr Saviano has just gone on trial, and risks a prison sentence, having been accused of criminal defamation by Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. The case relates to comments made during a television show two years ago, when he condemned Ms Meloni’s campaign as an opposition leader to prevent NGO boats rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean. In an emotional response to footage of a grieving mother, whose baby had died when a migrant dinghy capsized, Mr Saviano described Ms Meloni and her ally on the radical right, Matteo Salvini, as “bastards”. Concurrently he faces separate defamation lawsuits brought by Mr Salvini, now deputy prime minister, and Gennaro Sangiuliano, the culture minister, both of which will come to court next year. Last week, Mr Salvini asked to be also included as a plaintiff in the case brought by Ms Meloni, which is due to resume next month.

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