Italian ex-minister found guilty of 'orangutan' slur

Published 26.01.2019 15:38

A senior parliamentarian in the anti-immigration League party was convicted on Monday of racially abusing Italy's first black minister and handed an 18-month suspended prison term.

Roberto Calderoli, vice president of Italy's upper house Senate, told a political rally in 2013 that Cecile Kyenge, an Italian citizen born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, looked like an orangutan.

He subsequently apologized for the comment and denied it was racist, saying he had merely made a "friendly joke." However, a court in the northern city of Bergamo rejected this and gave him a suspended jail sentence.

Calderoli belongs to the far-right, anti-immigration League party led by deputy premier and interior minister Matteo Salvini. He served as minister for institutional reforms in 2004-2006, and for public administration in 2008-2011, in conservative cabinets led by Silvio Berlusconi. In 2006, he was expelled from government after sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. His actions triggered deadly protests in Libya, a former Italian colony.

In Italy, defendants are allowed two appeals before any verdict becomes definitive. Legal proceedings took a long time because the constitutional court was asked to weigh in on the dispute: earlier this year, it ruled that Calderoli's remarks were not covered by parliamentary immunity.

Kyenge, who became the target of repeated racial slurs following her appointment as integration minister in 2013, said she was delighted by Monday's court ruling. "Hurray, hurray, hurray. You pay a heavy price for racism," she wrote on Facebook. "Racism will be denounced wherever it shows itself."

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