PM’s press conference was an attack on democracy – Repubblika

Robert Abela
Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Civil society organisation Repubblika lambasted Prime Minister Robert Abela for a press conference he addressed on Friday evening following two criminal complaints filed by the NGO over alleged intentional sabotage. Abela flanked by the cabinet addressed a press conference which was streamed on social media and did not include the participation of journalists via teleconferencing apps on the matter on Friday. Repubblika stated that the government’s intention was clearly manifested in the choice of time and method in delivering its press conference to discredit a non-governmental organisation after the latter filed criminal complaints over serious allegations which are yet to be denied.

In an unprecedented move, Malta has declared its ports to be unsafe and will not allow migrant boats to land amid the coronavirus break. The government has also banned civil search and rescue NGOs from disembarking rescues and claimed that it could not guarantee sea rescue due to lack of resources.

Repubblika filed two criminal complaints – one against P52 crew and another against Prime Minister Abela and Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi – over allegations that AFM officials had cut the cable of motor leaving the group at sea until they were eventually rescued and brought over to Malta. To date both the Government and the Armed Forces of Malta have failed to deny the allegations.

In a video press conference on Saturday morning, Repubblika said criticized the government for its statement on Friday. It accused the Prime Minister of twisting facts in a malicious manner as it highlighted that the government’s press conference did not allow media to question the government on the matter.

The NGO outlined the events with Repubblika’s president Professor Vicki Ann Cremona highlighting that in this case, it was not a matter of simply causing damage to third party property but could have led to the death of the people on the boat. “We have simply asked the police to investigate the matter,” Prof. Cremona stated.

“We can’t understand why people are shocked at our request for an investigation. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law,” she remarked.

Explaining the reasons behind the criminal complaint, Prof. Cremona said that the NGO asked the police to investigate whether the deaths were a consequence of the Prime Minister’s and the Brigadier’s decision.

Replying to a question by Newsbook.com.mt, Robert Aquilina noted that the allegations leveled against the government which have not been denied merited an investigation. In a civilised country, an investigation would have kicked off in view of such allegations. “There were no indications that the relevant institutions took the necessary steps and we filed a complaint which could have been filed by anyone for an investigation,” Aquilina replied.

Speaking about the request filed before the European Court of Human Rights, Repubblika explained that the request was filed on Wednesday afternoon when it took the initiative to try and rescue the 55 individuals and sought to exert pressure on both the Maltese and Italian governments through the Strasbourg-based court. Prof. Cremona explained that the reports of the five dead individuals and the seven missing emerged only after the NGO had filed a request for interim measures. Further, the people on board the rubber boat were returned forcibly to Libya. “There was nothing left to do for the European Court of Human Rights since the situation had ‘resolved’ itself,” Prof. Cremona explained.

The NGO also referred to the narrative being pushed by the government accusing the civil society group of “betraying” the country. Prof. Cremona referred to comments made by government MP Glenn Bedingfield who accused the activists of “working in the interest of the enemy”. Repubblika’s president remarked that the NGO did not know who was the “enemy”, the top government official was referring to and that the government was using this opportunity to turn the public against them. “We’ve seen the previous administration using these tactics with slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia,” Prof. Cremona stated.

Repubblika decried the attacks on its legal representatives saying that access to a lawyer and having a legal representative were a democratic right. “We believe in justice and the upholding of the rule of law even during a pandemic,” Prof Cremona said.