Italian Court Indicts Amanda Knox’s Parents for Defamation

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This is crazy. If it doesn’t speak loads to the state of the Italian judicial system, I don’t know what does. Today, a judge in Perugia, Italy has indicted for defamation the parents of Amanda Knox, the American college student who last year was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2007 murder of her English flatmate.

In a court hearing, Judge Carla Giangamboni ordered the Knoxs to stand trial in a Perugia court on July 4, 2011 for alleging in a 2008 newspaper interview that Italian police abused their daughter and was subjected to physical and verbal abuse during a police interrogation in 2007.

Under Italian law, defamation is seen much differently than it is in the United States and prosecuted much more frequently. Protected speech, even against public figures such as politicians and the police corps, is more narrowly defined than in the United States. In addition, charges of both criminal and civil defamation are commonly brought in Italy, in contract to the States where defamation is almost always a civil matter.

Under U.S. law, a lot can be said of public figures without it being defamatory. If the plaintiff is a public figure, he or she must show that the statements were made with actual malice and with a reckless disregard for the truth in order to bring a successful claim of defamation. A lot of our comedy and commentary would be considered defamatory if that standard weren’t in place. In contrast, Italian courts protect the nation’s public figures and even national organizations and institutions such as the judiciary and the police. They believe that statements that are overly critical or that poke fun of them can be viewed as defamatory because the can undermine the public’s confidence in these institutions and these indivduals.

A calendar like this would never be allowed in Italy.

And yet here in the States, we are OK with even our Supreme Court justices being made fun of and being on the cover of a calendar in their undies. What a different approach.

Which is better? Being American, I think ours. We allow people to say what they think without the government censoring it or filing charges. Even if it is hard to hear, we think that it is better to have all speech be part of the “marketplace of ideas” to further discourse and discussion.

Italy has it out for the Knox family. In bocca al lupo.

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