Masturbating in public should not be considered an illegal act, Italy's Supreme Court has ruled, in a case involving a 69-year-old man who was caught exhibiting himself in front of female students.
The man, identified only as Pietro L, was caught holding his penis in a public place outside the University of Catania in Sicily.
Charged with indecency, he was put on trial. He told the court that he only engaged in the practice "occasionally", insisting that it would have been hard to see him because the incident had happened around dusk and there was "reduced visibility".
Accused of "taking out his member" and engaging in "auto-eroticism", he was found guilty of indecent behaviour and sentenced to three months in jail and a fine of €3,420. That sentence was upheld by the Court of Appeal in Catania.
But his lawyers took the case to a final appeal in front of the Supreme Court in Rome, which over-turned the conviction, citing a law introduced last year which decriminalised the offence of masturbating in public in front of women. "The act is no longer regarded as a crime by the law," the Supreme Court ruled.
It decided that rather than a custodial sentence, the man should be fined between €5,000 and €30,000.
The exact amount will be determined by a court in Catania. Opposition politicians said that it was outrageous that the law had been changed and accused the centre-Left government of Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, of going soft on perverts.
"The Renzi government has never given equal opportunities much notice, but to save from the prison cells people who commit obscene acts in front of women is really unjustifiable," said Elvira Savino, an MP from the centre-Right Forza Italia party.
"The government's law is an invitation to every maniac to molest women."