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Italy7 May 2004

Journalist sentenced to a suspended prison term

Reporters Without Borders condemned the severity of a suspended 20-day prison sentence against Fabrizio Gatti, of the daily Corriere della Sera, for giving a false name so he could investigate conditions at a refugee centre. The journalist will appeal.

The 5 May sentence against Gatti was a heavy penalty for a journalist who used the only method open to him to investigate a case that was in the public interest, the international press freedom organisation said.

The right of journalists to inform others and of the public to be informed should outweigh a minor offence essential for uncovering a social reality, it said.

The court in northern Lodi sentenced Gatti for making a "false identity statement" to a police patrol that arrested him in Lodi in January 2000 where he was disguised as a beggar.

The journalist was originally charged just with giving a false identity that is punishable with a fine. But the judge Andrea Pirola adjusted the charge and sentenced Gatti for making a false statement to a police officer, an offence carrying a three-year jail sentence.

In articles published in the Corriere della Sera on 6 and 8 February 2000, and for which he won the "Premiolino" prize, the journalist described how his rights were trampled at the centre where he passed himself off as illegal Romanian immigrant named Roman Ladu.

Gatti gave a false name to get inside the refugee centre in Milan’s Corelli Street. No journalist or parliamentary deputy had been given permission to visit the centre, where rumour had it that conditions were insanitary, immigrants rights were being violated and people were held without justification between 1999 and 2000. The centre was closed one month after Gatti’s articles appeared.

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