Writer on trial pleads freedom of expression

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Erri De Luca is due in court in Turin on Wednesday. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP
13:12 CET+01:00
An Italian writer sent to trial for saying an environmentally controversial train link should be "sabotaged" plans to make freedom of expression the centre of his defence.

Erri De Luca is due in court in Turin on Wednesday to answer a charge of incitement to commit a criminal act over 2013 interviews in which he was quoted as saying a proposed new link through the Alps "should be sabotaged" and that he thought "it is just to sabotage it."

In theory, the 64-year-old writer could be sent to prison for between one and five years if found guilty.

He hopes it will not come to that, he told AFP in an interview at the modest country house north of Rome which he now calls home after, in his own words, "years of being a vagabond."

But if he is convicted, he insists he is ready to go to prison.

"My defence is the freedom of expression. If that is overridden by the desire to censor, then I will not appeal."

Explaining his reasoning, he says: "The verb 'to sabotage' has many senses. And nobody, not even a judge, can prevent me from using this verb.

"Is a worker who goes on strike convicted because he sabotages production? Of course he is not!"

Avowed revolutionary

Regarded in literary circles as something of a hermit, De Luca's decision to set up home far from his native Naples, around which much of his fiction is based, is indicative of the contrarian character that has got him into trouble with the law.

An accomplished climber, he lives in bucolic, gently undulating countryside, far from the Alpine valley that environmentalists fear will be destroyed by the proposed high-speed link between Lyon in southeastern France and Turin in northwestern Italy.

He has been an avowed revolutionary since the heady days of 1968 but his radical politics never figure in his literary works, the best known of which, "Montedidio" (2001, translated into English as "God's Mountain" in 2002) won one of France's best-known literary prizes, the Femina.

And despite being a non-believer, he has dedicated large parts of recent years to translating some of the books of the Old Testament from ancient Hebrew to Italian, most recently producing an Italian version of the book of Esther.

"Non-believer does not mean atheist," he says as he pops another log on to the wood fire that is the only means of heating the single room he occupies in his long, one-storey house.

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"I exclude God from my life, but not from the lives of others.

"My books tell stories, they are not trying to demonstrate anything."

As a citizen, De Luca has never lost the passion of a youth spent in far-left circles, although it is the environmental cause that motivates him most these days.

The mountains that will be tunnelled for the rail link "are full of asbestos," he said, by way of explanation for the remarks that have landed him in court.

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