by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, June 30 (Xinhua) -- The clash between a powerful Italian government minister and a vocal critic, who is also a writer under police protection from organized crime groups, could be a warning shot against other would-be detractors.
In recent days, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, has lashed out against Roberto Saviano, a writer who has been under police protection since 2006, when he published the best-selling investigation into the Naples mob, "Gomorrah".
The protection, paid for by the Italian state, includes armed guards and living out of low-key hotels or apartments.
The book was made into an award-winning film, and it inspired a television series of the same name.
Salvini, who heads the anti-migrant and nationalist League, one of the two parties supporting the Italian government, said it might not make economic sense for the state to continue footing the bill for Saviano's protection.
"It seems fair to me to evaluate how Italians spend their money," Salvini said.
It was not Salvini's first attack against Saviano. Last year, Salvini wrote on social media: "If we get elected ... we will remove (Saviano's) police escort." Salvini also called on Saviano to voluntarily give up his police protection.
For his part, Saviano was defiant, making a video addressed to Salvini: "I have been threatened by the Neapolitan mafia clans and by Mexican drug traffickers," he said. "Do you really think I'd be afraid of you?"
On social media, Saviano said, "Italy is the Western country with many journalists under police protection because it has the most powerful criminal organizations in the world. But Matteo Salvini, rather than fighting the mafia, threatens to silence those who report about it."
"The state has an obligation to protect those under threat by crime organizations, and not doing so is the same as helping those organizations," Luciano Brancaccio, a sociologist at the University of Naples and the author of a book about crime clans, told Xinhua. "Even if it's a symbolic threat, it's very worrying because it damages that understanding."
There are around 200 Italians under police protection due to threats from crime organizations.
But Saviano has been singled out, according to Alessandro Franzi, co-author of a biography on Salvini, because he has been a loud and persistent critic of Salvini and the League.
"Saviano has been a vocal critic of the League and its policies for nearly ten years, making him a kind of icon of the political left, which is opposition to the current government," Franzi said in an interview. "That makes an attack against him particularly provocative."
Franzi went on: "The threats are probably meant to frighten others who might be critical of Salvini as much as it is meant to frighten Saviano himself."
Saviano warned as much, saying in an interview with Italian journalists, "Yesterday, Salvini attacked migrants, today it is me, and tomorrow it could be you."
But Salvini said he had no power to attack Saviano directly, saying that decisions about Saviano's protection would not be made by his office, but rather by "the appropriate government authorities."