Eight years ago, Italian journalist Roberto Saviano wrote the book Gomorrah, an insider account of the mafia-war between two of Naples’ most notorious crime families that quickly became an international best-seller. But in the eyes of the Naples crime syndicate, writing Gomorrah was akin to Saviano writing his own death wish.
Today in Italy, about 20 journalists live under the protection of armed guards while another nine have been killed by the mafia in the last few years. And this trend is only set to increase as attacks against Italian journalists have risen significantly since 2006.
A recent report released by the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee showed that from 2006 to October 2014, Italian journalists were subject to 2,060 “acts of hostility” by the mafia, with the figures highest during the first six months of 2014. And the journalists are further intimidated by the fact that few incidents see the aggressors identified, tried, and convicted.
Reporters Without Borders released a statement last month calling for better protection of Italian journalists — some of whom have faced attacks even while under police protection. “We remind the authorities that they have a duty to take action to guarantee the safety of journalists and we call on the anti-mafia prosecutor in Naples to see to this without delay,” Reporters Without Borders editor in chief Virginie Dangles said.
Attacks manifest in many forms. Cars are burned or rigged with explosives, bullets are sealed in envelopes and sent in the mail to journalists’ homes, and nefarious voices deliver harrowing threats over the phone. In some instances, corrupt officials are manipulated into sending subpoenas to journalists — taking up their time and preventing them from focusing on making a living.
The last time mafia attacks on journalists were this significant was during the 1990s, according to Antoine Héry of the World Press Freedom Index. Italy is ranked 73rd out of 180 countries on the 2014 index of World Press Freedom, a fall of 24 places from 2013.
“Justice should be done, and there should be a proper investigation led by the police each time a journalist is threatened,” Héry said.
After eight years under the suffocating watch of armed guards, Saviano rues the direction his life has taken. In a longform piece for the Guardian in January, he wrote:
I’m often asked if I regret writing Gomorrah. Usually, I try to say the right thing. I say, “As a man, yes, as a writer, no.” But that’s not the real answer. For most of my waking hours I hate Gomorrah. I loathe it. At the beginning, when I told interviewers that if I had known what was coming, I would never have written the book, their faces would fall. If it was the last question in the interview, I’d go away with a bad taste in my mouth, feeling like I hadn’t come up to scratch. I realised that I should have said, of course, that I’d do it all again tomorrow. That I would sacrifice everything, all over again. But so much time has passed now I feel like I’ve earned the right to share my regrets, and admit, I miss the time I was a free man. Whatever I would like my life to be, the fact is, I wrote Gomorrah, and I pay the price every day.