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The risks of reporting on the Roman Mafia

For journalists covering the dark side of today’s Italy, the European Union member state remains a dangerous place, says Federica Angeli – the latest in our “Global Voices of Freedom” series.

This content was published on October 18, 2022 - 09:00
Bruno Kaufmann, Michele Novaga

Italian journalist Federica Angeli has been living under police protection for years, due to her reporting on the Mafia in the coastal municipality of Ostia in Rome. “Freedom of expression is for me the freedom to be able to tell things that no one wants to tell,” she explains.

The 46-year-old has been publishing investigations into organised crime networks for the daily newspaper la Repubblica for over twenty years.

Following one report from Ostia, Angeli started to receive serious threats. “With this investigation I also had enormous difficulties of a social kind because there was a cultural resistance here in Rome to believing in the existence of a Mafia that spoke the Roman dialect: for many, the Mafia in Italy was supposed to exist only in the South,” she tells SWI swissinfo.ch in the courtyard of the Rome headquarters of la Repubblica. The interview was overseen by two agents who have been watching over Angeli around the clock for nine years.

Thanks to her work a criminal gang headed by the Spada family, which demanded protection money from merchants and sowed fear along the Roman coastline, has been broken up. In January 2022, the Supreme Court of Italy, as part of a large trial brought against 17 leaders and affiliates of the criminal group, also ruled that a Mafia clan – the Spada clan – was active in Ostia, testifying to Angeli’s work.

Awarded an Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by Italian President Sergio Mattarella in 2015, three years later Angeli also wrote a book – A mano disarmata: Chronicle of one thousand seven hundred days under police protection. The publication was so successful that it also inspired a film, directed by Caludio Bonivento and with actress Claudia Gerini playing the role of Angeli.

Angeli is one of more than 20 Italian journalists currently living with this kind of security detail. “It’s not normal that there are all these journalists in Italy,” she says. “On the contrary, it’s an anomaly that sparks interest in Europe and other parts of the world. There is something obviously not working well in our society.”

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