The 1998 Italian Crackdown Exposed

0. Premise

1. What Is The Musti Affair?

2. The assault on Internet service providers

3. We need international solidarity

0. Premise

Something serious is happening in Italy. A crackdown recently started in Bologna is going to threaten freedom of speech for Italian netizens [internet citizens]. The so-called Musti affair, which we'll sum up in the next paragraph, is a pretext to create a legal precedent, foster (self-)censorship and possibly enforce the (remarkably restrictive) law on the press in Italian cyberspace.

1. What Is The Musti Affair?

Lucia Musti, Vice-District Attorney in Bologna and former Public Prosecutor in a famous trial against an innocuous cult called 'Bambini di Satana' [Children of Satan], sued a 'traditional' publisher (Castelvecchi Edizioni, based in Rome) and two Internet service providers (Cybercore, based in Bologna, and 2mila8, based in L'Aquila) for having published or put into electronic circulation Luther Blissett's book Lasciate che i bimbi. "Pedofilia": un pretesto per la caccia alle streghe' [Let The Children... "Pedophilia" as A Pretext for A Witch Hunt]. The book is anti-copyright, thereby it is also freely available on the Web. Lucia Musti wants the book to be banned, all the printed copies to be destroyed and its electronic versions to be removed from the indicated servers. Moreover, she claims moral damages for 450 million lire (approximately $300,000). She asked the competent magistrate to sequestrate Castelvecchi's accounts and contracts (officially in order to know how many copies were put into circulation - but more likely she wants to find out the real names of the authors). The first session of the trial will take place on 5 May 1998 at the Tribunal of Bologna. According to Musti, the book's content is 'insulting,' 'slanderous' and 'prejudicial' to her reputation and identity. The charge is 'Misuse of the right of criticism.' Why?

The first chapter of Blissett's book consists of a scrupulous account of the Bambini Di Satana trial. In 1996 the three defendants (cult leader Marco Dimitri and his fellows Piergiorgio Bonora and Gennaro Luongo) were arrested and charged with child rape, satanic ritual abuse and even human sacrifice. There were no corpses, no reliable witness, no evidence at all whatsoever. The defendants went through a long, groundless detention before being taken to court. The media upheld their guilt, fostered moral panic and described them as little more than bloodsucking monsters. Eventually they were acquitted, but their lives were destroyed.

Soon after the arrest, the Luther Blissett Project (LBP) launched a campaign of counter-information and challenged the investigating authorities, whose Jeanne d'Arc-like commander was Lucia Musti. The LBP exposed her lies, her staunch clericalism and the ambiguous role played by the Curia of Bologna [local ecclesiastic authority] through a group of bigots named GRIS [Group for Research and Information on Cults]. Combining media hoaxes, private investigations and a meticulous deconstruction of Musti's propaganda, the LBP helped to free Dimitri and the other two. Some newspapers (e.g. La Repubblica) were greatly influenced by Blissett's campaign, and explicitly censured Musti's behaviour and fanaticism.

According to the LBP, the 'Children of Satan' were scapegoats, and their trial was a manifestation of the sexophobic/homophobic/obscurantist Euro-paranoia about pedophilia, ritual abuse and kiddy porn on the Internet. The first chapter of Lasciate che i bimbi, which is far from having a slanderous content, tells the whole story from the arrest to the acquittal, exposing the ways Musti took advantage of her position in order to manipulate public opinion and persecute innocent people. After having ruinously lost the trial, she even wanted to avoid the consequences to her reputation!

2. The Assault On Internet Service Providers

Musti's 'Atto di Citazione' [certificate of action at law] is a violent assault on the Internet providers whose servers hosted the electronic text of the book. The target is the Internet, its "difference," the features that make it incomparable to the traditional media, i.e. the horizontality which has granted freedom of speech for those who have no access to the old media and the trans-nationality which has made a lot of wanna-be censors sleepless.

Italian legislation on the Internet is full of blanks; this is the state's chance to fill them, set a dangerous precedent and force providers and netizens into self-censorship. If Musti wins the trial, the Italian Net landscape will be impoverished if not ravaged, with serious repercussions all over Europe and the world.

Here's some translated excerpts from the abovementioned Atto di Citazione, dated February 11th, 1998:

[In Italy] the responsibility of providers for torts committed via the telematic nets is currently the subject of a lively debate. Two fronts oppose each other: one considers providers equal to publishers, thus responsible [for the contents], the other considers them equal to booksellers and news vendors, thus non-responsible. We think that the 11th article of the law on the press - which is about the common responsibility of the publisher, the owner of the publication and the author - is extentable (at least by analogy) to [Internet] service providers. Although the mentioned law is enforced for "all typographical reproduction, obtained by any mechanical or physio-chemical means, anyhow aimed at publication," we must remember that, despite the wonderful terms currently used to describe the information highways, the material that is put on the Internet is not destined to stay in a virtual world of immaterial communication; indeed, it can be easily fixed on such material supports as computer hard disks or diskettes, as well as reproducible by such mechanical means as printers.
However, the responsibility of providers can also be demonstrated according to the article 2050 of the Civil Code [which is about responsibility for dangerous activities]. In fact, this rule is enforced not only for the activities regarded as dangerous according to the law on Public Security and other special laws, but also to all the activities that, to the opinion of the competent judge, can intrinsicly be harmful, even if they are as much licit as useful for society.
In the case the competent justice decides there are no premises for the enforcement of Article 2050, we can take into consideration Article 2051 [which is about damages caused by things kept in custody], because it is undeniable that A) [providers] have a direct, concrete power on the sites running on their servers, B) [the sued providers] were aware that the contents of Blissett's text were prejudicial to other people's reputation, and could have easily removed them from the sites [...]

3. We Need International Solidarity

This struggle has an immediate political value; every Italian provider has to take part in the general mobilization. Besides setting limits to freedom of speech, this precedent will extend their legal liability.

The Net is an organism that can defend itself. Its immunity systems are electronic civil disobedience, the netizens' quick reflexes and the almost instinctive solidarity that doesn't leave abuses unpunished. Musti has made a big mistake by taking offence at the Italian Web. We have suggested anyone who runs a site or a server to create pages dedicated to this crackdown, by mirroring (or re-designing) Lasciate che i bimbi, and loading the text you are reading. International solidarity is indispensable. We've just started to get media coverage and organise events, while other people are putting the incriminated book on their sites. We'll constantly update the list and sent it to all the concerned netizens, along with all the material we'll be able to translate into English.

We also call on every enemy of obscurantism, repression and censorship to take the field and make a protest against this crackdown, by sending e-mail to Italian newspapers.

internet providers sued by the bologna's pub. prosecutor:

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