The decision by a Magistrate’s Court ordering the police to prosecute Birdlife activists for posing in a photograph showing protected birds that had been shot beggars belief. It was met with incredulity in legal circles and described as “legally correct but illogical”. It is truly incomprehensible how six youths out to highlight illegal hunting are now to be dragged before the courts over the ‘illegal possession’ of protected birds they had found dead.

In coming to his decision, Magistrate Aaron Bugeja recognised Birdlife Malta’s commitment to bird protection but said he had seen no evidence that the activists holding those birds had any authorisation to do so. The court pointed out that the applicable legal notice on the protection of wild birds applied to everyone and not just hunters. Surely, this turns the whole purpose of the legal notice on its head.

Applying such a narrow interpretation means that anyone who comes across a protected bird shot down by hunters runs the risk of getting into trouble with the law if he picks it up and takes it to a vet for treatment. The Police Commissioner had argued that there was no criminal intent on the part of the Birdlife activists. The magistrate thought otherwise and applied the law literally.

Adding poignancy to this decision is the role played in all of this by the hunters’ lobby, the FKNK. They are the ones who brought the case before the court after the Police Commissioner refused to take any action against the six conservationists at their behest. The FKNK, which has long had Birdlife in its sights, saw a loophole and wanted blood. They turned to the courts and, most surprisingly, won the case.

The FKNK has been hounding our political class for decades, threatening with the votes of its members should their pastime be undermined in any way. In recent years, the FKNK has taken to using the law itself to get at its critics. The Birdlife activists were not their first prey.

When CABS used a remote controlled aircraft to detect illegal hunting and trapping, the FKNK had similarly called on the Police Commissioner to take criminal action. The same happened earlier this year when TV naturalist Chris Packham was questioned for five hours by the police after the FKNK lawyers alleged privacy breach and defamation. And that is not all. The hunters’ lobby has been trawling this newspaper’s online comments board and lodging complaints with the police, asking them to investigate any contributor who it feels has libelled it.

One can argue that they are within their rights to do so, as it was within their right to take the Police Commissioner to court. Nevertheless, whichever way you look at it, the FKNK is coming across as intimidating.

Scoring legal points for apparently no purpose at all other than to turn the tables on their critics is a waste of taxpayers’ money, court time and police time, because everyone knows it is not Birdlife that shoots protected birds, or the many critics of hunting, but some hunters that the FKNK represents.

Has this organisation ever taken the Police Commissioner to court for failing to prosecute one of its members? Evidently not. Until it does, cases such as the incident involving six conservationists come across as nothing short of bullying and intimidation by a lobby group that has had its way for far too long.

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