The Italian government today flatly rejected a proposal by the Red Brigades terror faction that the views of jailed terrorists be given an uncensored nationwide hearing in return for the possible lifting of a death threat they have made against a kidnaped judge.
The government's move came in response to yesterday's announcement by the terrorists that they had decided to kill Magistrate Giovanni d'Urso, whom they kidnaped Dec. 12. A Red Brigades communique found outside a Rome nightclub yesterday suggested a reprieve for D'Urso if guerrillas jailed in two top security prisons in southern Italy were allowed to express their opinions on the matter on state radio and television and in major newspapers.
Italian Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti, speaking for the four-party coalition government, said attempts to save D'Urso's life would continue but that it was the government's duty to unequivocally declare that the terrorists' demands "have no chance of being accepted."
The Christian Democratic Cabinet minister also condemned the Red Brigades' "professional use of the mass media" and urged the press to place the defense of the country's democratic institutions about the "sacredness" of news.
Several of Italy's major newspapers, including Corriere della Sera of Milan and Il Tempo of Rome, today ignored threats of terrorist retaliation to announce that in the future they will refuse to publish the Red Brigades' statements.
Nevertheless, the government's appeal to the press appeared certain to intensify a debate over the press' responsibilities in reporting terrorism. Last week two journalists from the left-wing weekly, L'Espresso, were arrested for complicity and false testimony after publishing an interview with D'Urso's captors and parts of his "testimony" in his "trial."
The terrorists' latest declaration continued to focus attention on Italy's jails in a shift of strategy that some observers believe reflects on the Red Brigades' current strength and status.
Since the Dec. 12 kidnaping, the terrorists' demands have focused on the closure of all of Italy's maximum security prisons and on requests for official status for the "struggle committees" organized there by terrorist prisoners.
Observers agree that the focus on jails indicates that a large number of terrorist leaders are now imprisoned and that the country's prison population is now the major source of new terrorist recruits.
Some Italian observers see the Red Brigades' latest activities as a sign of weakness. "They are now concerned with addressing their own rank-and-file rather than the society at large," said a Socialist university professor from Florence who believes the renewed Red Brigades violence since October after a hiatus of several months reflects the organization's "death throes."
Estimates of the Red Brigades current strength are difficult to make. In 1980 urban guerrillas of several left-wing terrorist groups killed 24 persons. On the other hand a police crackdown resulted in over 400 arrests including those of several dozen alleged leaders.
"We are definitely making progress," said a police official, "but the bloodshed is far from finished."