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Italy’s right-wing government has been moving to silence intellectuals through defamation lawsuits, and the latest example is a philosopher being sued by Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s brother-in-law, according to the Guardian.

The case centers on statements made in April 2023, when Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, who is married to Meloni’s sister, addressed Italy’s demographic decline at a trade union conference, saying his country was at risk of “ethnic replacement.”

Donatella di Cesare from Rome’s Sapienza University, who has written books on the link between Nazi thinking and modern-day conspiracy theories, said on television later that day that such a statement could also be found in “Mein Kampf” and Nazi ideology in general.

Di Cesare’s remarks, however, were “solely aimed at destroying a person and smearing both myself and my associates,” said Lollobrigida in the court filing. He has called the statements “defamatory” and “shameful.”

The professor, who will appear in court on May 15, said that all of this was part of a political strategy to sideline opponents of the right: “What we are seeing here is legal proceedings against a historical comparison … The aim of defamation trials like mine is not just to intimidate, but to push left-wing intellectuals outside the public discourse.”

Meanwhile, the case is just one of a growing list of legal proceedings Meloni and her right-wing allies have launched against progressive pundits criticizing their political agenda.

Historian Luciano Canfora is facing prosecution for aggravated defamation for saying in 2022 that Meloni was a “neo-Nazi at heart,” a comment that the prime minister claimed could “falsify her political identity.” And writer Roberto Saviano was fined $1,077 for calling Meloni and her power-sharing partner Matteo Salvini “bastards” for crusading against ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy hands some of the European Union’s harshest sentences for defamation – up to six years in jail.

Despite calls for reform, including from the judiciary, Meloni’s administration has pushed back a debate on a bill aimed at protecting journalists and writers from defamation cases. Journalists face about 5,000 defamation cases in Italy annually.

During Meloni’s first year in power in Italy, Europe’s highest number of “strategic lawsuits discouraging public participation” –known as SLAPP cases and which include some defamation suits – were brought in the country, according to a recent study.

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