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Court dismisses shipyard’s libel action against left-wing website

Reporters Without Borders welcomes a Saint-Nazaire court’s decision to dismiss a libel prosecution against Roberto Ferrario, the editor of the left-wing website Bellaciao, for publishing a trade union press release accusing the Saint Nazaire-based shipyard, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, of treating its workers badly.

“This is the only acceptable outcome to a case that should never have existed,” the press freedom organisation said. “All Ferrario did was post a union press release in its entirety, indicating where it came from.”

Entitled “Modern-day piracy,” the release was issued by the USM-CGT trade union on 16 September 2005. It accused the shipyard of “private sector banditry” and “mafia activity” and of treating its foreign workers like slaves. The shipyard brought a libel suit against the union and Bellaciao, but the investigating judge handling the case, Françoise Bironneau, decided that only Ferrario should be prosecuted.

Notified on 18 October 2006 that the case had been transferred to the public prosecutor, Ferrario finally appeared before a Saint-Nazaire court 11 months later, on 11 September, when the shipyard requested “symbolic damages of one euro.” On 2 October, the court dismissed the case as “inadmissible” and acquitted Ferrario.

Run by a Franco-Italian collective, Bellaciao received support from many trade unions during the two years that the case dragged on, including the CGT National Union of Journalists, which said in a statement after the court’s decision that: “Freedom of expression has won a battle.” A petition supporting Bellaciao that was posted online by the USM-CGT was signed by more than 25,000 people.

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