Italy “seems to focus more than other European countries the dynamics of the tendency towards hate”, the charity said in its annual report on human rights around the world.
In the past three years, Amnesty International Italia's director general Gianni Rufini said, the country has become “steeped in hostility, racism, xenophobia and unjustified fear of others”.
Against this background, the campaign for Italy's election on March 4th has only aggravated the problem, Amnesty said. The group has been monitoring comments made on social media by political leaders and candidates nationwide and in the past two weeks alone has identified more than 200 that it flagged as hateful or discriminatory on grounds of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Virtually all were made by members of the centre-right alliance that the latest polls show leading, comprised of Forza Italia centrists, the populist League and far-right Brothers of Italy.
The League, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, uses the slogan “Italians First” and regularly shares stories of crimes committed by immigrants on his Twitter feed, was responsible for half of the hate speech, Amnesty said. The highest concentration of discriminatory remarks came from the League's northern heartland, Lombardy, where its candidate for governor last month said that immigration threatened to wipe out Italy's “white race”.
Meanwhile the Brothers of Italy, while making fewer discriminatory statements about migrants, refugees and Roma people, made the highest number of negative comments about women and LGBTI people. While the party has a high-profile female leader, Giorgia Meloni, it promotes “traditional family values” that tend to exclude orientations other than heterosexual.
Outside the centre-right, the populist Five Star Movement was responsible for 2 percent of racially discriminatory comments, Amnesty said.
From the start, Italy's campaign has been dominated by the issue of immigration, with the centre-right fiercely criticizing the incumbent centre-left government's policies and pledging to deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants.
Tensions spiked even more sharply when a Nigerian man was arrested in connection with the murder of a young Italian woman, whose dismembered body was found in the central town of Macerata three weeks ago. Her death was followed by a racially motivated shooting by a local far-right sympathizer, who claimed he wanted to take revenge by targeting other immigrants of African origin.
People march against racist and sexist violence in Macerata. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
And this week, at least two political activists were attacked while campaigning: a provincial leader of the extreme-right Forza Nuova party in Sicily, and a man putting up posters for the radical-left Power to the People alliance.
Amnesty's Rufini warned that Italy is more polarized than ever before, saying that part of the public believes itself to be “great, pure, Italian while the rest don't deserve to share the country […] creating an impossible climate in this country and killing all chance of debate”.
Salvini responded that he had asked for a meeting with Amnesty to explain what the League stands for, Ansa reported. “I want to restore calm to Italy, respect for rules and dignity for workers. No violence, no xenophobia, no racism,” he said. “Limited and controlled immigration will ensure peaceful, serene coexistence.”
Salvini has promised to expel 100,000 undocumented migrants – who he calls “irregulars” – within a year of taking office, while he said that Islam was “incompatible” with Italian values or the constitution.