Showoff, outlaw, criminal, perpetrator of a crime, accomplice to human traffickers—these are just some of the terms Interior Minister Matteo Salvini used to describe Carola Rackete, the captain of the Sea Watch 3. On TV interviews, in Facebook posts and on Facebook Live, he has waged a relentless propaganda campaign against the German activist for weeks.
Now this campaign is the basis of the criminal complaint for aggravated defamation and incitement to criminal activity that Rackete’s lawyer, Alessandro Gamberini, filed before the Rome prosecutor’s office on Thursday. The complaint called for the seizure of the Facebook and Twitter profiles of the Lega leader because they are “propagating messages of hate.”
In the complaint, Rackete writes: “Salvini is leading a smear campaign against the NGO I work for, having said on public occasions that it is ‘an illegal and outlaw organization’ that is ‘landing illegal immigrants from an illegal ship,’ and whose members are supposedly ‘accomplices of smugglers and traffickers,’ ‘criminals, jailors of human beings.’” All these utterances are not substantiated by any evidence, and could be grounds for a separate lawsuit by the Sea Watch NGO. Meanwhile, Rackete stresses that “these statements are also damaging my reputation and endangering my person and my safety.”
In addition to that, there are also the personal insults: “The statements made through the different channels, far from being manifestations of a legitimate right to express criticism, have been gratuitous and defamatory acts of aggression, made in a threatening tone, directly and indirectly.” She goes on:
“Salvini’s words convey visceral feelings of hatred, denigration and belittling, up to the point of complete dehumanization. Salvini’s defamatory statements are the instrument of a message of hate that engenders, on the one hand, the commission of new crimes of defamation against me, and, in addition, exposes me to the danger of physical attacks.”
Her lawyer, Gamberini, explained: “We do not want to impede the freedom of speech, but we are requesting the seizure of the social media profiles where Salvini is instigating hatred. Since in the cases in question he is not acting in his quality as a senator or minister, he cannot invoke his Parliamentary immunity. His verbal assaults are taking place in a manner that is sheltered from his official role, and are used solely to stoke resentment among his supporters. The many followers who are echoing his words are themselves proof that instigation is taking place.”
For example, the Lega leader posted a picture of him with a group of women in uniform, under the photo of Rackete accompanied by the word “criminal”: this photo, Rackete’s criminal complaint claims, “takes the form of a public announcement, calls to mind ‘Wanted’ posters, and shows me as a target for threatening, injurious and defamatory, if not outright violent, conduct.”
Between May 19 and July 5, in interviews and Facebook posts, Salvini trotted out an endless series of insults, among which “outlaw” and “criminal” were the most frequent. The targets were Sea Watch and Rackete, but also the magistrate presiding over the preliminary investigation, Judge Alessandra Vella, who rejected the prosecutors’ request to keep the captain in jail, relentlessly dismantling the claims of the prosecution. Salvini called Vella a “miserable judge,” in a post which also contains the words: “Since ramming is not a crime, I hope somebody rams the car in which investigating judge Alessandra Vella is traveling.” What followed was an avalanche of insults against the judge, to the point that she had to shut down her social media profile.
Last week, the High Council of the Judiciary opened up an investigation in the case of the attacks against Judge Vella. “Salvini’s statements,” the criminal complaint reads, “are not taking place as part of the exercise of his office, but transforming it into an instrument of pure propaganda, instigating a ‘discourse of hate’ that puts the lie to any claim of a connection to an institutional function.”
Furthermore, Salvini knows well what the consequences of his posts are. The complaint features a selection of the comments of his followers: “German whore,” “that cow, if she had just f****d them one by one instead of bringing them to shore,” and “evil c*nt” are just a few examples. The personal attacks go to the very limit of sadism—the result of the echo chamber that the Lega’s media machine is fueling. For example, the video posted on July 3 was seen by almost 1.5 million people, had 98,000 comments and was shared by almost 25,000 users.
As for Salvini, he replied to the news of the criminal complaint on social media: “The German Communist, the one who rammed the patrol boat of the Financial Police, asked the prosecutor’s office to shut down my Facebook and Twitter pages. There is no limit to the ridiculous. So, I’m only allowed to use Instagram???”
Gamberini commented: “It’s up to the court to ascertain whether the methods that Salvini is using are permissible in a democratic state. Politics cannot be a realm beyond the reach of the law.”
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