The Sicilian Mafia’s “honour code” doesn’t bar members from being poets, but a mafioso’s penchant for writing verse led his fellow mobsters to assume he was gay.

As a punishment, they gang-raped him.

The alleged assault on the 20-year-old-man, a convicted ‘foot-soldier’ for a Catania-based crime-family, has been brought to light by his lawyer, Antonio Fiumefreddo.

“Writing poetry is considered stuff for an ‘iarruso,’” he said.

The word is Sicilian slang for a gay man.

Speaking on an internet current affairs programme, Klauscondicio, Mr Fiumefreddo declined to name his client, who he says was sodomised by eight men in 2006 and is still in jail.

“I don’t even know if he really is homosexual, but for his sensitive ways, and the fact that he wrote love poems, he is thought of as gay and treated accordingly,” Mr Fiumefreddo said in a video interview posted on Monday.

Italian gay-rights activists have reacted with outrage at the report, condemning authorities for their alleged inaction.

“It is stupefying that news of a prisoner’s rape has only surfaced two years after the attack,” the president of the Arcigay association, Aurelio Mancuso, said.

Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna has asked Italy’s Justice Department to provide more details on the matter to establish if the case represents an “act of violence based on sexual discrimination.”

Fiumefreddo said his client was treated for the injuries he sustained in the rape at the Catania prison Piazza Lanza’s medical centre, requiring several stitches.

Apparently the attack was not reported to authorities and no charges were laid against the alleged assailants.

The lawyer said the decision to “go public” with news of the alleged rape followed remarks by one of Italy’s top anti-mafia prosecutors, Antonio Ingroia, who said the Mafia’s gay bosses are afraid of coming out because they would get tossed out of the organisation.

Ingroia argues that the Mafia’s violent reaction towards affiliates who declare themselves gay or are “outed” as such, exposes a weak link in the secretive organisation’s dealings.

“The mafia’s vision of (traditional) masculinity serves to emphasise its power and its claim of being ‘set apart’ from (modern) society where there is growing openness to the role of women and gay people,” he said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.