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July 09, 2002 01:17pm
Italian Police Close Porn Websites
Source: AP
by: Tom Rachman

(ROME, ITALY) -- Italian authorities blocked out five Websites for blaspheming Catholicism with a combination of pornographic pictures and offensive statements about the Madonna, police said Tuesday.

Blasphemy is still illegal in Italy and although cursing has been decriminalized, publishing or broadcasting sacrilegious material can be prosecuted, police said.

Investigators from a special police unit dealing with media violations learned about the sites - with names that translate into phrases such as "Pig Madonna" and "Blasphemy" - in 2000. A team of at least six officers spent almost two years tracking the sites and working on shutting them down.

"At these addresses, the mention of God and the Madonna, besides being preceded by strongly vulgar language, was tied to explicit images of sex," police said in a statement. "With this, then, it was very far from any expectation for freedom of expression."

Now, when the five sites are called up, viewers see the crest of the special police unit.

Col. Giuseppe Montanaro of the police unit involved in the case said the sites were made in Italy, but the Internet Service Providers were in Washington, DC, and California.

A young Roman man was charged in the case. Authorities were still working on what exactly the charges might be, but Montanaro said the man could face imprisonment and a fine.

"We blocked out these sites because they tied a festival of blasphemy with distasteful sexual images in which they mixed the name of God, the name of the Madonna, with religious cursing," Montanaro said. "But this wasn't enough - they then went on to showing a nun in suggestive clothes or other things in poor taste."

The sites got about 12 million hits over the two years they were open, police said. Authorities were first tipped off by an article on such sites in the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano in October 2000.

Montanaro said that police actions of this sort wouldn't necessarily only be limited to Catholic blasphemy. But he said he had no information on sites blaspheming other religions.

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