Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi on Thursday said it was legitimate to shut down websites that incite hatred as protests sweep the Muslim world over anti-Islam publications.
"It is absolutely legitimate for governments to block sites that include... incitement to hatred," Terzi said, following outrage over a short film on YouTube and a series of cartoons in a French weekly.
"There is a very fine but clear line that separates freedom of religion from freedom of speech and Italy's criminal code defines religious defamation as a crime," he said.
"Italy has a legal tradition that enshrines the values of free thought but links them to respect of the freedom of others to have faith and to be respected in their faith."
Religious defamation under Italian law carries possible punishments ranging from a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,300) to a maximum of three years in prison.
The law was amended in 2006 to replace defamation against Catholicism with defamation against all religions.