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Paolo Borrometi

Rome, Italy, August 22, 2019
Paolo Borrometi is the 2019 recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for courageous and ethical journalism

Paolo Borrometi is the 2019 recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for courageous and ethical journalism

“It’s hard to look into the eyes of those who want you dead.”

And it’s equally hard for Paolo Borrometi to hear the death threats from mafia bosses repeated before Italian judges in court proceedings in which he is a witness, but still he persists in his investigative journalism aimed at the crime syndicates.

“So much fear” is now part of the routine of his isolated life under round-the-clock armed police escort, Borrometi said after being named the 11th recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for courageous and ethical journalism.

The death threats have been brutally specific. In September 2018, an Italian court in Ragusa, Borrometi’s home province in Sicily, sentenced mafia henchman Venerando Lauretta to 18 months in prison for threatening Borrometi.

The court cited Lauretta’s warning to Borrometi: “Your heart will be placed in a pan and, after I have eaten it, I will come to visit you in Rome even though you are not even worth the price of a ticket. Jesus Christ won’t save you and even if they arrest me, there will be people coming after you.”

After the court’s ruling, Borrometi said “I think that today is a beautiful day for freedom of the press. The condemnation of the mafia boss Venerando Lauretta is the evidence that no clan and no mafia boss can remain unpunished when threatening a journalist.”

The Lauretta case was only one of 14 trials in which he has testified about the threats against him, Borrometi said, but the threats continue.

In January of this year, a letter was sent to his Rome office containing nails, symbolic of the nails in a coffin, and a note with the Sicilian dialect words “Picca nai,” meaning “You have little time left.”

In a 2018 interview with the Slovakian news outlet, Borrometi said “The first threats I received were difficult to link to mafia. They scarred my car, then came the words ‘be careful.’ Then anonymous phone calls.”

Paolo Borrometi, the 2019 recipient of the Peter Mackler Award, teaches journalism at the Gobetti high school in Scandino, Reggio Emilia province, Italy, on June 1st, 2019

Paolo Borrometi, the 2019 recipient of the Peter Mackler Award, teaches journalism at the Gobetti high school in Scandino, Reggio Emilia province, Italy, on June 1st, 2019

“My life changed on April 16, 2014. I was attacked by two men with covered faces. They left me on the ground, unconscious, with a shattered shoulder, broken in three parts. Those fractures, which force me to live with a permanent handicap until today, have been the watershed. From that day I constantly live with a fear. But my desire to go on with my work is stronger.”

In announcing the award to Borrometi, Camille Mackler, manager of the Peter Mackler Award, said “We are thrilled to honor the work of Paolo Borrometi this year for his courage and dedication to undeterred journalism in the face of danger.”

“Italy is not a country one would associate with the repressive regimes where previous Peter Mackler Award recipients operate,” Mackler said.

“Nonetheless, Paolo has already paid dearly and continues to pay with constant threats to his life for having exposed the devastating cost of the mafia’s dealings in an increasing number of European countries,” she said.

Borrometi said he would be dedicating the Mackler award in part to the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist killed in a car bomb attack in October 2017, and Antonio Megalizzi, the Italian journalist killed in an attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg in December 2018.

Caruana Galizia and Borrometi began corresponding in 2013 after she asked to republish one of his articles in her magazine.

Following the 2014 attack on him by the two men wearing balaclavas outside his family home in Sicily, Caruana Galizia wrote to him: “Don’t stop writing, Paolo. Our countries need free and investigative journalism. You have my respect.”

Borrometi said he took inspiration for a career in journalism from what has become known in Italy as the “Capaci massacre.”

In May 1992, Italian Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife, Judge Francesca Morvillo, and their escort of three police officers — Rocco Di Cillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani – were killed by a car bomb near the Sicilian town of Capaci. Falcone had dedicated his life to the overthrow of the Sicilian mafia.

“I have a law degree, but my generation has grown up with images of the bombs that brought blood and death to Sicily,” Borrometi said, and “I probably started dreaming of being a journalist” following the Capaci massacre.

Borrometi was born in the Sicilian city of Ragusa in February 1983, and began working in 2010 for various outlets: the daily newspaper La Voce, the TV channel Video Uno, the newspapers La Repubblica, and Il Giornale di Sicilia, and the national news agency AGI. He also publishes La Spia, the news website he set up in 2013.

In 2015, Sergio Mattarella, president of the Italian Republic, presented him with the “Cavaliere dell’Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana (Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic)” for his intrepid work in exposing the mafia.

Borrometi also has won the esteem of his colleagues for his refusal to bend to the continuing threats.

In a statement, Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, said that “By singling out Paolo Borrometi, the Peter Mackler Award is paying tribute to the bravery and commitment of a journalist who, despite continuous mafia threats, attacks and assassination plots, keeps on informing about criminal organizations and their international networks and activities.”

“The PMA recognition will offer him, as well as all his resilient Italian colleagues, vital support and protection,” Deloire said.

For Borrometi, perhaps the most meaningful tribute to his work came in a private audience with Pope Francis arranged by a friend who is a priest.

“It was a wonderful moment,” Borrometi said, to have “40 minutes of conversation in which the Pope caressed my soul and dried my tears. I never hid my fear, he gave meaning to so much suffering.”

Richard Sisk

Paolo Borrometi acceptance speech (English translation)

Welcoming remarks by Catherine Antoine, Peter Mackler’s widow

Remarks by Reporters Without Borders Executive Director Dokhi Fassihian