Auschwitz survivor Liliana Segre made senator for life in Italy

Italian Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre has been made a senator for life by the country's president Sergio Mattarella.

Auschwitz survivor Liliana Segre made senator for life in Italy
File photo of the Italian Senate: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The announcement was made to mark 80 years in 2018 since Italy's Fascist government introduced racial laws discriminating against Jews.

Aged just eight at the time, Segre was expelled from her school after these laws came into effect and five years later she and most of her family were arrested after trying to flee to Switzerland.

She was deported to Auschwitz and was one of only 25 Italian child survivors of the 776 who were sent to that camp.

Segre said that Friday's decision was a “bolt from the blue”. Speaking to news agency Ansa, she said she felt a “grave responsibility” to ensure that the Italian Senate takes notice of “all the distant voices that risk being lost to oblivion”.

“The life of Liliana Segre is a testimony to freedom. As senator she will show us the value of memory,” said Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in a tweet.

For several decades after her liberation, Segre chose not to speak publicly about what she had experienced, but in the '90s she began to tell her story at schools and conferences. Since then, her testimony has been featured in multiple documentaries and books about the Holocaust.

The video below shows Segre speaking at Milan's American School. 

Segre has also spoken out against “indifference” towards migrants and victims of people-traffickers in Europe today.

She is the first lifetime senator Mattarella has appointed; this is a small group, currently numbering six, which includes former presidents and those appointed by presidents on the basis of outstanding achievements.

Former president Giorgio Napolitano, who himself is a senator for life, appointed four: former PM and economist Mario Monti, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carlo Rubbia, biologist Elena Cattaneo, and architect Renzo Piano.


Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.