Riots put Italian government under pressure to ban neo-fascist groups

Italy's government was under growing pressure on Monday to ban groups like the neo-fascist Forza Nuova after violence followed weekend protests against vaccines and the country’s green pass health certificate.

Far-right groups are thought to be behind violence at 'No Green pass' protests in Rome.
Far-right groups are thought to be behind violence at 'No Green pass' protests in Rome on October 9th, 2021. Photo: Filippo Monteforte /AFP

On Monday the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) presented a motion in parliament calling on Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s administration to dissolve Forza Nuova and all other fascist-inspired political movements in the country.

“We hope that all genuinely democratic political forces will sign… The time has come to put an end to ambiguities regarding fascism,” PD said in a statement.

IN PICTURES: Demonstrators and far right clash with police in Rome after green pass protest

While ‘apology for fascism’ is legally recognised as a crime in Italy, groups like Forza Nuova are allowed to operate.

Along with CasaPound, Forza Nuova is the main neo-fascist organisation active in Italy and is known for violence against immigrants and police.

Most recently, the group has been involved in several protests against the use of Italy’s green pass, with leading members of the group addressing crowds in Rome during demonstrations before rampaging through the city.

Leader of Forza Nuova Giuliano Castellino speaks on stage during a demonstration against the expansion of the green pass in Rome on July 27th, 2021. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Twelve people including Forza Nuova leaders were arrested and 38 police officers were injured on Saturday after protests descended into violence, as one group broke into the CGIL trade union building and others attempted to reach Palazzo Chigi, which houses the prime minister’s office.

While police stopped rioters from reaching Palazzo Chigi using water cannon and tear gas, video footage appeared to show a small number of officers overwhelmed by a violent mob using sticks and metal bars to smash their way into the CGIL building.

READ ALSO: Anti-vax protesters in Rome target PM’s office and trade union headquarters

Dozens of rioters also attacked the accident and emergency unit at Rome’s Policlinico Umberto I hospital, forcing health workers to barricade themselves inside, as one nurse was reportedly hit with a bottle.

After meeting Draghi on Monday, CGIL leader Maurizio Landini said the government had pledged to discuss the dissolution of Forza Nuova in the coming days, Reuters reports. 

“The prime minister has expressed the solidarity of the government and the commitment of all institutions to prevent the return of a past we don’t want,” Landini said.

“All those groups that refer to fascism must be dissolved, and now is the time to say so clearly.”

Two separate investigations into the riots in the capital have been opened by prosecutors, Italian media reported on Monday.

The violence was widely condemned by politicians, including by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, which is often accused of having close links to neo-fascist groups and is known for recently putting forward Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter and great-grandson as candidates in local and European elections.

Forza Nuova’s leaders were unapologetic, releasing a statement on Monday that read: “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the green pass is definitively withdrawn.”

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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.