ITALY: Italian law increases penalties related to protests and criminalises NGOs’ rescue of migrants at sea

(featured photo: rally in Italy in favour of sea rescue by

(ECNL) On 5 August 2019, the Italian Parliament passed that a law that increases punishment for offences and crimes associated with public assemblies. The provisions of the law had been previously introduced by the government in a law decree on security, public order and fight against illegal immigration in June (Law Decree no. 53 of 14 June 2019, a.k.a Security-bis Decree). A law decree is an emergency government measure, which is immediately in force for up to 90 days, and then it expires unless the Parliament converts it into law. This is what the Parliament has now done, with minor amendments.

Provisions regarding freedom of assembly

The new law introduces harsher provisions regulating assemblies taking place in public places or private spaces open to the public, including:

  • Increased penalties of imprisonment between 2 and 3 years and fines from 2000 up to 6,000 euros for anyone who uses protective helmets, or any other means to make it difficult to recognize the person, except in those events of a sporting nature that require the use of such devices (Article 6, para 1)
  • Imprisonment from 1 to 4 years of anyone who, during assemblies, launches or makes illegitimate use of rockets, flares, fireworks, firecrackers, of devices for the emission of smoke or visible gas or for nebulising gases containing stinging active ingredients, or sticks, clubs, blunt or other offensive objects, in order to create a concrete danger for the safety of people or the integrity of things (Article 6b);
  • Increased imprisonment up to 2 years of anyone who uses violence or threatens a public official during assemblies (Article 7b);
  • Increased imprisonment between 1 and 5 years for anyone who destroys, scatters, deteriorates or renders, in whole or in part, useless movable or immovable property of others on the occasion of events taking place (Article 7).

The new law has eliminated the previous provisions in the law decree that included the imprisonment between 1 and 3 years of anyone who in public assemblies obstructed a public official or the public service authorities from performing their duties by using shields or other objects or materials, even smearing or polluting (so-called “passive resistance”).

Private data processing by the police

The law extends until 31 December 2019 the deadline for the government to adopt a regulation implementing the Italian Privacy Code with specific regard to the processing of personal data carried out for police purposes (Article 9). As a background, the Privacy Code was amended last year to incorporate the new guarantees introduced by the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, the processing of data of people under control or investigation by the police requires specific regulations that are currently missing.

How does the law sanction search and rescue missions?

The new law grants new powers to the Ministries of the Interiors, Defence and Transport, who will now jointly be able to restrict or prohibit the entry, transit or docking of ships in the territorial sea, except for military or government non-commercial vessels, for security reasons, when there are reasons to believe that the crime of aiding and abetting illegal immigration has been committed (Article 1). Violations of this provision are punished with administrative fines between 150,000 euros and 1 million euros, in addition to the existing criminal sanctions for aiding and abetting illegal immigration. If the violation is reiterated, the ship will also be confiscated by the authorities.

You can consult the official text of the Law incorporating the amended Law Decree No. 53/2019 (in Italian) here