At the heart of the case are statements made by De Luca, 64, in interviews in which he described as legitimate attempts to “sabotage” a project that has become a focus for anti-globalisation protesters.
“The verb ‘to sabotage’ is a noble one. Gandhi himself used it,” De Luca told reporters gathered for the opening day of a trial that resulted from a complaint made by LTF, the Franco-German consortium building the multi-billion-euro link from Lyon in France to Turin in northwestern Italy.
Italian authorities later joined the prosecution of the writer over the content of two 2013 interviews in which he was quoted as saying the rail link “should be sabotaged” and that he thought “it is just to sabotage it”.
De Luca has said he will go to prison rather than appeal if he is found guilty, framing his prosecution as one which threatens freedom of expression.
“Show me the people that I incited to (carry out) sabotage,” he said.
The opening of the trial came a day after another Italian court sentenced 47 opponents of the rail link to prison terms averaging nearly three years each in connection with violent clashes with security forces in 2011.
De Luca described those sentences, which were deemed unexpectedly heavy by most of the Italian media, as “a political punishment”.
Six people accused of being among the masked demonstrators involved in the pitched battle were acquitted. The convicted will not go to jail pending appeals.
In an interview with AFP earlier this week, De Luca argued that no judge had the right to define what a writer meant by his use of any word.
It was not clear what point he was trying to make by invoking Gandhi. The Indian independence leader regularly discussed using sabotage in the struggle against British rule but, in line with his non-violent approach, did not regard it as a legitimate tactic.
– ‘Limits of free speech’ –
Prosecutor Andrea Beconi told the court that incitement to commit a crime was well-established as an example of the law placing limits on the freedom of expression.
Alberto Mittone, LTF’s advocate, added: “Crimes can be committed in words as well as by acts.”
After opening arguments, the next hearing in the case was set for March 16.
Opponents of the rail link say it will wreck the pristine Val di Susa on the Italian side of the Alps and potentially release toxic asbestos particles into the environment.
Despite the ferocious opposition and criticism from France’s public spending watchdog, the two countries’ governments are strongly committed to the project, for which drilling work began in 2013.
It is expected to be completed in the late 2020s at a cost of at least 26 billion euros, around 40 percent of which will be provided by the European Union under a scheme to promote strategic cross-border links.
De Luca is a life-long radical whose literary tales centred on his home city of Naples have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish and a number of other languages.
He is best known for “Montedidio” (2001, translated into English as “God’s Mountain” in 2002) which won one of France’s best-known literary prizes, the Femina. -AFP