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Italian bloggers strike

Proposed law would fine web sites denounced for defamation.

Italian bloggers strike for a day to protest proposed law that would fine them if they were accused of publishing defamatory statements. (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

ROME — This week in Rome, bloggers and activists wore gags to protest a proposed law that could impose heavy fines on bloggers who don’t correct “offensive” comments within 48 hours.

About 200 bloggers gathered at sunset in the picturesque Piazza Navona July 15, while hundreds others joined the protest online by freezing blog posts for a day.

“A blogger is not a professional reporter,” yelled 35 year-old Guido Scorza from atop a marble bench as he held a heavy megaphone. “A blogger doesn’t have a legal office to defend him from lawsuits,” he said.

The controversial Alfano proposal — named after its author, Italy’s Minister of Justice Angelino Alfano — has already been approved by Parliament and awaits Senate approval.

If passed, the law would force bloggers to edit any post denounced to the government as defamatory. If the blogger refused, the denouncing citizen could sue for as much as $18,000.

Few bloggers can afford such a high price for freedom of expression. Strike organizers said that the provision especially aims to discourage bloggers from commenting on politicians and other public figures.

“They are trying to reduce the number of bloggers in Italy,” said Scorza, a lawyer and expert in digital civil rights. He said the internet has given Italians the tools to question their elected representatives.

One such Italian, the comedian-turned-blogger Beppe Grillo, has used the web to expose the Italian Parliament’s inability to act on crucial issues such as conflict of interest, corruption and the environment.

Every year, Grillo organizes a popular event called “V-Day,” which promotes active citizenship, and the use of the web as a news source. Recently, Grillo’s popularity won him an online election as the next secretary of the Italian Democratic Party (PD). The party, however, refused his candidacy.