Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pope Sues Indymedia

Vatican threatens to sue Indymedia
By FREEDOM OF PRESS 06/04/2007 At 19:41

It looks clear to us that the trial is going to restrict the liberty of expression and is politically motivated, trying to silence satirical criticisms published in a letfist site about the political positions of the new pope.

Back in April 2005, the World Press reported that the Italian Public Departmen's attorney, Salvatore Vitello, intends to take legal action against a satirical photomontage picturing Cardinal Ratzinger, the then newly chosen pope, in Nazi uniform. A few months ago, the intention materialized in the form of a letter of request that is now being considered by the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ). The request letter asks for the the page to be taken down and disclose the identity of the people deemed responsible for the site, which is registered in Brazil.

The case in question is a good example of the double standards in dealing with the freedom of the press. In the incident of the cartoons that satirized prophet Mohammed in the Danish journal Jyllands-Posten, the public opinion of the liberal democracies jumped to condemn the fanaticism and the restriction of the freedom of expression. Now that the satire concerns a religious figure that occupies a privileged position in the international setting, the Italian Judiciary, in accordance with the Vatican, initiates forms of cyber political pursuit.

The photomontage at the heart of the trial is a satirical composition published on the Italy Independent Media Center site in April 2005. IMC, or Indymedia, is a global network of open publishing websites, where readers can publish news and opinion, established in 1999 to cover the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. The photomontage is an anonymous contribution by one of the site users and puts the face of the Pope Benedict XVI to the body of a Nazi officer. The picture is accompanied by following comment, which the Italian Public Department considered offensive: "Nazi pope - happiness to all the faithful. After the anti-communist reactionary, now comes the ultra-reactionary Nazi."

The satire is clearly a composition that ridicules and criticizes persons and institutions by means of funny exaggeration. The right of satire is one of the foundations of the freedom of expression and press, and is what guarantees that all papers and magazines carry cartoons and caricatures on their pages every day. As an exaggeration, satire is always based on some elements of truth that are then maximised, aiming for a funny effect. In the case of the Pope photomontage, the truth element is that Pope Benedict XVI was member of the Hitler Youth in Germany when he was 14, as well as the fact that his politics, as Mayor of the Faith Doctrine Congregation during John Paul II rein, was considered ultra-conservative. The cartoon does not have as its object the Catholic faith but, rather, the political orientation of the person in charge of the Papacy, as highlighted in the comment.

Despite the fact that the photomontage contains all the elements that qualify as a satire and, therefore, should be protected by the laws that defend the freedom of expression, the Italian Public Department used an article of the Italian penal code that criminalizes the "contempt of a minister of the Catholic faith", Catholicism being the "state religion" there.

However, the jurisprudence established in Italy already regards as outdated and illegitimate the argument that fuses State and Religion. That means that the core argument that substantiates the solicitation of the letter of request is questionable in its own country of origin.

Although Indymedia is not the author of the post concerned, the maintenance of the page where it is published is to us a question of principles. We believe that the photomontage is a satirical criticism of the political positions assumed by the Pope during his ecclesiastical career and that attorney Salvatore Vitello is criminalizing a publication based on outdated articles of the Penal Code, especially that this very Penal Code has recently had substantial changes to its writing.

The letter of request sent to the STJ is based on a judicial agreement of mutual cooperation between Brazil and Italy which limits this cooperation to predicted cases in the legislation of both countries and to crimes that are not of a political nature. However, the Brazilian law does not offer special protection for the ministers of the Catholic faith. Further, the letter of request, although claiming the trial is not of political nature, does highlight that the Independent Media Center website is the "expression of the information circuit of the antagonist left".

It is pretty obvious that the trial is going to restrict the freedom of expression and is politically motivated. It is trying to silence satirical criticism, published on a leftist site, about the political positions of the new pope. We expect the Minister entrusted by the trial in the Superior Court to have the same understanding. We also expect that the Brazilian civil society, as we as the international community, would express their opposition to this attempt by the Italian attorney to silence any criticism of the controversial political orientations of the Catholic Pope.

Recently, the request for filing the case was sent to the Italian Judicial authorities by the Italian Public Department itself. However, the request letter sent to Brazil is still being processed by the Federal Justice.


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