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Laws Against Cults and Mental Manipulation in Italy

Minority Religions, Social Change and Freedom of Conscience


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A Paper presented at The 2013 Spiritual Human Rights Conference

Copenaghen, 10th December 2013

The sixth edition of Spiritual Human Rights Conferences was  co-organized by Soteria International with partner institutions, namely the following: Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAP), European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF), European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO), Dansk Interreligiøst Forum (DIF) and Youth for Human Rights (UFMR, Denmark).

By Raffaella Di Marzio  


In Italy, a few members of Parliament (members of Berlusconi’s party) have been proposing, from 2000 to 2013, three different bills for punishing the “mental manipulation” crime. The criminalization targets most of all minority religions and, in general, spiritual associations which have ideas, beliefs and practices different from the mainstream.

“Plagio” in Italy

Massimo Introvigne, the managing director of CESNUR (The Center for Studies on New Religions) explains very well what happened in Italy in 1981, when the Constitutional Court repealed the “Plagio” law. I would like to summarize his article published in the CESNUR website.

First of all he clarifies the meaning of the Italian expression “plagio” [plagium in Latin]. It is used as a translation for the English “brainwashing”. In Italy we say that a person can be subjected to “plagio” by “dangerous cults” or “sects”. Plagio is rooted in article 603 of the 1930 Italian penal code which under the heading “plagio” mandated a jail term of five to fifteen years for “anyone who subjected an individual to his own will, so as to reduce that individual to a total state of subjugation”. The article was repealed in 1981 for many reasons:

  • the first body of criticism was empirical: the phenomenon of plagio does not exist nor can it be verified, if we presume that such a condition of subjugation cannot be achieved merely with psychological tools. Most psychiatrists agreed on this point. The problem was that such a rule was too vague and undetermined, therefore contrary to the constitutional principle of legality.
  • the second body of criticism was political: the critics argued that the rule masked an attempt at ideological discrimination. Following this line of reasoning the judges ran the risk of judging lifestyles and any ideas that were contrary to prevailing social opinion or even to the court's majority opinion under the pretext of judging methods of indoctrination (Introvigne, 2002).