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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote

A sign of diplomatic ties or brazen trolling? Three days before Italy's elections, the Russian embassy tweeted photos of almost all the main party leaders with President Vladimir Putin.

Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi pictured together in 2015. The Russian Embassy has published more photos of Putin with Italian political leaders ahead of the country’s election. Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ / RIA NOVOSTI / AFP

“From the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy. We have some memories,” the embassy wrote on Thursday, at the end of a campaign where the Ukraine war and Italy’s ties with Moscow have taken centre stage.

READ ALSO: Italy’s right confident of election victory at last rallies before vote

One photo showed Putin and former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi leaning towards each other, while another portrayed Putin shaking hands with a smiling Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party.

Another showed Putin standing between anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini – a long-standing Putin admirer – former premier Giuseppe Conte, now head of the populist Five Star Movement, and ex-Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s current foreign minister.

The last photo showed Putin smiling while shaking hands with former prime minister Matteo Renzi, now leading a centrist party – though Renzi looks a little uncomfortable.

The only major party leader not included in the photos was Giorgia Meloni, whose Fratelli d’Italia party is predicted to come out on top in general elections on Sunday. Her party was, until very recently, almost unknown and has never been in power.

Italy’s current government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been strongly supportive of Western sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

Meloni has backed the measures, and the sending of weapons to Kyiv, but is fighting the election as part of a right-wing alliance alongside Salvini and Berlusconi, both known for their friendly relationships with Moscow.

Salvini has been highly critical of the sanctions, saying they are harming Europe and Italy more than Moscow.

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POLITICS

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.

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