The attacks on freedom of expression in Europe’s largest apple-growing region of South Tyrol are reaching a new level: Today, the Bolzano Regional Court will hold a hearing on whether charges will also be brought against the managing director of Munich-based Oekom, Jacob Radloff. Radloff published Alexander Schiebel’s book “The Miracle of Mals” in 2017, which will see Schiebel put on trial in January 2021.
The founder and president of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, describes the indictment as an attack on freedom of expression : “As the founder of the global Slow Food movement, I have been campaigning for over thirty years to ensure that food is produced in a clean and fair way. As a writer, I am shocked that other renowned publicists who are committed to the same goals, could be prosecuted for their opinions in Italian courts. I declare my solidarity with the Oekom verlag, its publisher Jacob Radloff and Alexander Schiebel, the author of the book “The Miracle of Mals”, that explains the dangers of industrial agriculture. Our right to good, clean and fair food and the right to freedom of expression go hand in hand.”
In addition to Schiebel, Karl Bär, an agricultural officer at the Munich Environmental Institute, has also been charged with defamation against the South Tyrolean fruit industry. The trial of Karl Bär began in September. Schiebel and Bär had publicly criticized the high use of pesticides in Europe’s largest contiguous apple growing region. The South Tyrolean State Council for Agriculture, Arnold Schuler, filed more than 1600 complaints.
Jacob Radloff, Managing Director of Oekom verlag: “Oekom verlag has been publishing about ecology and sustainability for more than 30 years. In addition to imparting relevant knowledge for sustainable social development, I see it as our duty to also draw attention to ecological grievances. “The Miracle of Mals” by Alexander Schiebel completes this task in its entirety. It is completely incomprehensible to me that, as the publisher of the book, I am now to stand trial in Bolzano on unconstitutional charges as a criminal. Justified criticism, opinion and open discussion must be allowed, and I am counting on the Italian judiciary system to see it the same way.”
After two years of investigation, the Bolzano Public Prosecutor’s Office had initially requested that Jacob Radloff be discharged. However, Schuler appealed, which is why the court in Bolzano will now hold a hearing on today on whether charges will be brought against him or not and whether further investigations will take place.
Radloff: “We should not accept that groundless complaints against publicists be established as a means of silencing unwelcome criticism. Neither authors nor independent publishers like us have the financial resources for legal fees and litigation costs to defend themselves against such accusations in complex proceedings. Of course, there is a danger that – simply out of economic necessity – cases like this one will lead authors and independent publishers to self-censorship and inconvenient statements will be avoided. This would lead to a massive cut for liberal democracies.”
For the defendants and their lawyer Nicola Canestrini, the actions and criminal charges are a clear attack on freedom of expression.
Nicola Canestrini: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of democracy and one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against tyranny and abuse of power. It is regrettable for the rule of law that someone is being indicted here for making use of this right.”
In addition to Jacob Radloff’s possible indictment, discussions as to whether charges will be brought against other members of the environmental institute in Munich will also be on the table today. In 2017, the association led a high-profile campaign on the use of pesticides in South Tyrol, which resulted in complaints being filed against the agricultural officer, Karl Bär, and the board members. Back then, the case was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
In the event of a defeat, those affected by the “pesticide trials” in Bolzano are threatened not only with imprisonment and substantial fines, but also with possible financial claims for damages of several millions euros from the state government and the subsidiary plaintiffs, which would lead the accused to financial ruin.
Today, the trial begins in Bolzano. You can read Jacob Radloff’s statement: HERE