ROME (Reuters) - An Italian court on Monday cleared activist writer Erri De Luca of allegations that he had incited crime by saying in an interview that a controversial high-speed train line cutting through the Alps should be sabotaged.
The case against the Naples-born author had roused a chorus of support from environmentalists and fellow writers and was seen as a test case of freedom of expression in Italy.
The planned new line connecting the northern Italian city of Turin with Lyon in east-central France would include a 57-km (35 mile) tunnel.
Cheers rang out in the packed court room in Turin when the judge said there was no case to answer for De Luca, 65, the author of prize-winning poems and stories.
De Luca supports a movement that is virulently opposed to a planned high-speed train line, known as the TAV, which will cross the picturesque Susa Valley in the Italian Alps.
In 2013, after the arrest of two activists who had petrol bombs and shears in their car, De Luca told the Huffington Post, "The TAV should be sabotaged. This is why shears were necessary. They are useful to cut fences."
In response, LTF, the Franco-Italian company set up to do preliminary work on the line, filed a charge with an Italian prosecutor arguing that such a statement from a famous person like De Luca increased the risks faced by their employees. Some of its staff had already received death threats, it said.
As Monday's hearing began, De Luca repeated his opposition to the proposed rail link. The line "should be obstructed, impeded, and sabotaged in legitimate defense of the health, earth, air and water of a threatened community".
He added that, even if he weren't the accused, he would have come to the court to see what he described as "an experiment, an attempt to silence dissenting words".
De Luca, who was part of the now-defunct Lotta Continua (Continuous Struggle) revolutionary group in the 1970s and 1980s, says the plan to drill a tunnel through the Alps would release asbestos and radioactive deposits.
LTF said it had done rigorous environmental checks.
French President Francois Hollande said earlier this year that work on the line would start in 2016, some 15 years after an agreement to build it.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Tom Heneghan)