There’s an interesting story recently that is worth mentioning. A Sicilian judge found Italian blogger Carlo Ruta guilty of the 1948 law of publishing a “clandestine newspaper.” Despite the fact that the Italian constitution gives its citizens the right to freedom of expression, Mr. Ruta was ordered to pay a fine and shut down his website.
How was it decided that Mr. Ruta’s blog constituted a newspaper? It has a headline. By that criteria, it must be a newspaper. And since it wasn’t registered, it is therefore a clandestine newspaper.
This is a ridiculous finding as many Italians have pointed out because, by the headline criteria, practically the entire internet is illegal in Italy. Digging a little deeper it seems that the content of Mr. Ruta’s blog (the connection between local government and the mafia) is a bit of an inflammatory subject in Sicily, so this ruling was simply an expedient way of shutting him up. I’d like to think that this case gets appealed and saner heads prevail, but this also goes to show a few things.
First, that laws have far reaching consequences beyond what their authors envision. The 1948 law was written in the aftermath of Facism and was meant to stop radical political newspapers from polarizing the population. Despite however well intentioned the authors of the law may have been, it remains a clear case of government overstepping its bounds. If people are guaranteed freedom of expression by the supreme law of the land, then government has no business saying otherwise.
Second, it goes to show how well politicians passing laws in an effort to seem like they are doing something productive often have far reaching, unforeseen, pernicious effects. The politicians of 1948 were trying to seem popular by assuring the populace that they were on watch of a resurgence of Facism. It’s understandable for politicians to busy themselves passing silly laws, but everyone else seemed to forget that no laws on the books stopped Hitler and Mussolini from taking power. Those two dictators broke several laws, including some constitutional basics, in their assumption of power, but no one was able to stop them at the time. As obvious as it may seem to you and I, the government needs to understand that it does not improve the situation by passing a law that says, in essence, it’s illegal to break the law.
Every time politicians act to better their public standing by passing silly laws, the liberty of its people ebbs a little more. The more laws accumulate, the more almost everything under the sun becomes illegal. Of course, the justice system would bankrupt itself if it tried to prosecute everyone, so instead the state selectively targets its dissidents by selectively invoking laws that don’t seem to apply to anyone else- as we see here.
I’m not too concerned about my blog running afoul of Italian laws, but maybe I should be. After all, Ernest Zuendel was a Canadian citizen who, while extolling the virtues of Hitler, ran afoul of German laws banning Holocaust denial. He was declared a threat to national security, tried in a German court, and sentenced to jail time. Does anyone else find it ironic that, in the name of combating Facism, the states of Germany and Italy have taken on government powers that are vaguely reminiscent of… Facism?
Still, it’s not the German and Italian government that worried me as much as the good old government of the USA. Giving aid and comfort to the enemy was declared by the Military Commissions Act to be the equivalent of being an enemy combatant. According to that act, should you be suspected of being such an a person, you get tried by a military tribunal.
Considering what we’re seeing happen with these Italian and German laws, I don’t even want to consider the kind of abuses that can occur with a law as draconian as this. It’s high time we as Americans get serious about liberty, and there’s no better place to start than to call for the repeal of laws such as the Military Commissions Act.
Yet another gift to us from the Bush Administration.