Italian prosecutor demands take down Indymedia Italy

By EDRi · May 4, 2005

The public prosecutor’s office of Rome has requested the relevant judicial authorities to allow the seizure of Indymedia Italy’s website, on the ground of violation of the Italian penal law on ‘vilipendio della religione cattolica’ (‘insult to the catholic religion’) and ‘vilipendio della figura del Papa’ (‘insult to the Pope’s figure’).

What happened? Someone, using Indymedia’s content management system (which allows everyone to freely upload all kind of material) has published a fake photo of Pope Benedictus XVI dressed as a Nazi official. This was a clear reference to the Pope being a member – albeit, as he put it in various interviews, ‘not a real enthusiast’ – of the Hitlerjugend (the ‘Hitler Youth’).

Even though the constitutionality of the law on insult to the catholic religion, that is being invoked as a weapon against Indymedia Italy, is itself quite doubtful (on the basis that it is discriminatory towards other religions and in general not really compatible with the supposedly lay nature of the Italian State) the public prosecutor has nevertheless decided to issue an international judicial action; the website of Indymedia Italy is physically hosted in the US. Italian media consequently speak about hosting in Brazil, but they are probably confused the fact that the domain name is registered by a Brazilian entity.

Moreover, the public prosecutor is waiting for the authorisation of the Italian Ministry of Justice in order to prosecute for insult to the Pope’s figure. Since the Pope is a foreign head of state, a formal authorisation by the minister is necessary. It will be interesting to see what the decision of the Minister of Justice will be, especially given the very close links that have always existed between Italian governments from 1945 onwards and the Vatican.

This is not the first time that Indymedia is being targeted by Italian authorities: last October many Indymedia national websites went off-line because of the seizure of two hard disks. Even though the information was officially dismissed as untrue, rumours were that the request for the seizure was issued by the public prosecutor of Bologna, in the context of an investigation on homeland terrorism. However, the FBI – which materially seized the servers – confirmed that the request came from Italy.

The fake image of Pope Benedictus XVI

(Contribution by Andrea Glorioso, Italian consultant on digital policies)