The police arrest you.
They then detain, cuff, interrogate, force you to strip down naked, and subject you to body cavity searches. Your lawyer isn’t present during this entire time.
So, what were you charged with? Defamation. Hard to believe a nightmarish scenario like this one could ever happen to anyone?
Well, just ask Vittorio De Fillippis.
He alleges that this is exactly what happened to him, and all because ". . . of an article contributed by an internet commentator and published on Liberation’s website which described the past legal troubles of Xavier Niel, founder of a French Internet access company called Free." The article was published while Mr. Fillippis was an editor-in-chief of the Liberation, which makes him responsible under French law.
Defamation is chargeable as a criminal offense in France, Italy, and several other countries around the world. Recently an Italian prosecutor ordered four former and current Google executives to appear in court to face charges of defamation.
Believe it or not, defamation is also chargeable as a criminal offense in some states in the U.S. Last week, a Colorado man was criminally charged for posting certain comments about his former girlfriend on Craigslist.
Fortunately France appears to be moving in the right direction on this issue. In response to public outcry over Mr. Fillippis’s alleged treatment by the police, the prime minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, issued a statement urging the decriminalization of defamation. I applaud Sarkozy and hope that defamation is fully decriminalized in France soon.
In Part II, I will discuss why I believe criminal laws are increasingly being used to address alleged instances of defamation.
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