ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday criticised judges who granted mitigating circumstances to murderers of women on the grounds they were blinded by jealousy or disappointment.
Domestic violence is recognised as a serious problem in Italy, and this month two sentence reductions sparked outrage because judges cited the hurt feelings of men who had killed their wives or girlfriends.
An appeals court in Bologna halved to 16 years the original sentence of a man who strangled his partner in 2016 gripped by what a court psychiatrist said was “an emotional and passionate storm”.
The killer had found messages from other men on his partner’s phone and she told him she wanted to end their relationship.
In another case in Genoa, a man who stabbed his wife to death was given 16 years, rather than the 30 years requested by prosecutors, with the judge saying the murderer was driven by “anger and desperation, deep disappointment and resentment”.
The man had discovered his wife had not left her lover as she had promised.
With women’s rights advocates up in arms, Conte, a trained lawyer, stepped into the debate with a post on Facebook saying that while judges must remain independent, such cases raised cultural issues he felt bound to comment on.
“We must clarify with force that NO EMOTIONAL REACTION, NO FEELINGS, HOWEVER INTENSE, can justify or mitigate the gravity of femicide,” he wrote, using capital letters to ram home the message.
In another contested ruling whose reasons were made public this month, an appeals court in Ancona overturned a rape conviction noting that the two suspects had found the victim too unattractive and “masculine” to want to rape her.
There was one femicide every two days in Italy between 2006 and 2016, a total of 1,740 and an average of 174 a year, a recent study showed. One in three women between the ages of 16 and 70 has experienced physical or sexual abuse, it said.
A generation ago, the Italian penal code prescribed prison sentences as short as three years for men who killed women out of jealousy. Until 1981, the law sanctioned leniency for male defendants who murdered to preserve “family honour.”
Conte, who is not a member of either of the two ruling parties — the rightist League and the populist 5-Star Movement — said Italy must achieve a “cultural revolution” in its attitudes to women in order to build “a better society”.
additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Catherine Evans and Steve Scherer