the Erased font


Kelly Duda
  • CountryUnited States of America

In 2019, I was tried in Rome for “offending the honor or prestige” of an Italian prosecutor—an offense that dates back to Italy’s fascist period. These trumped-up charges were levied at me as a result of my having testified in a 2017 criminal case against a former health ministry chief—who’d been convicted previously of taking millions in bribes—and representatives of an Italian pharmaceutical company accused of supplying Italians with tainted blood products.

As an American journalist and documentarian, I was known for having exposed how contaminated blood taken from US prisoners in Arkansas in the 1980s and 1990s was sold around the world, including in Italy, where 2,605 hemophiliacs were infected with HIV and hepatitis. Because of this, I was asked to travel to Naples to help tainted blood victims seek  justice. At the time, I had no idea that—by the mere act of sharing evidence and testimony that implicated the defendant—the very prosecutor for whom I was a witness would seek retribution against me. However to my surprise, the prosecutor objected to me testifying and tried to block me from giving evidence. Despite his attempts to silence me, I testified for five hours against the defense. Afterwards, in a private exchange, I expressed my dissatisfaction with his role in the case. Immediately, he yelled to the judge that I had committed crimes. Police burst through the door and seized my passport, then I was detained and interrogated, but eventually released. Even so, the fear of being rearrested and thrown in prison haunted me for the rest of my time in Italy.

Naples prosecutor (right) yelled at the judge accusing Kelly (left) of committing crimes and wanting him to be locked up. Photo credits: Sarah Tuft

Being forced to defend myself against a wrongful prosecution in a foreign country was very traumatic. While my job wasn’t affected, my emotional wellbeing was damaged and my sense of security undermined, especially as the case dragged on for years, often because the prosecutor, as witness, failed to show up in court, causing numerous delays. This underscored that his accusations were intended to act as continued harassment for my speaking the truth. Although I couldn't be extradited, and was tried in absentia, I was concerned about how a conviction might affect my professional reputation, as well as my ability to travel to Italy, and even internationally.

Though I originally faced two criminal trials, my defense counsel managed to get the first case dismissed. While I still had to stand trial on the second one, in December 2022, I was finally found not guilty. Given this overall miscarriage of justice and unabashed corruption, I feel certain that—were it not for the international press coverage, the Council of Europe and Media Freedom Rapid Response alerts, and help from groups like Free Press Unlimited—I would have been convicted of a crime I did not commit.

Being wrongfully accused opened my eyes to the dangers journalists face everyday. My experience, though both terrifying and infuriating, pales in comparison to what many reporters around the world are enduring - and just for doing their jobs. Many have been imprisoned or killed. In Italy alone, 21 reporters have received death threats and as a result, are under round-the-clock security. A month prior to my incident in Naples, Maltese investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car was blown up. At the time of her murder, Galizia faced more than 40 libel suits, another way governments and corporations try to keep reporters from telling the truth.

“A free society must be free of censorship. Now, more than ever, free thought and free expression are being challenged and suppressed by oppressive governments and greedy corporations. In my case, a law—penal code 343—was misused against me in an effort to cut out my tongue. Penal code 343 has also been misused against everyday Italians. This must end. Additionally, the use of criminal defamation and SLAPPs to silence critical voices and undermine scrutiny is a direct threat to liberty and justice for all."

—Kelly Duda

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