The owner of satirical news site Bis-Serjetà has been charged with making online threats after he implied that evangelical group River of Love should be carpet bombed.

Matthew Bonanno said that police had served him with a court summons for misusing electronic equipment to threaten the commission of a crime in relation to a Facebook comment he published a year ago, on January 4, 2022.

The court summons notes that the criminal complaint was filed by River of Love pastor Gordon Manche at the Sliema police station. 

In the Facebook comment, Bonanno suggested relocating River of Love to Buġibba, “then carpet bomb. Two birds with one stone”. He posted the comment in a thread beneath a post of his, in which he argued that the evangelical group should be “treated exactly like ISIS”.

Another Facebook user who replied to the post saying Malta could not afford “a sustained aerial bombing campaign on Żebbuġ [where River of Love was located]” has also been charged by the police, Bonanno said.

If found guilty, the two could be fined up to €50,000 or jailed for up to a year. 

The Facebook comments were posted just days after the murder of Paulina Dembska in Sliema. The man charged with that crime, Abner Aquilina, had attended River of Love meetings. He told police that the devil spoke to him and told him to “kill more people”.

Police spoke to members of the evangelical group in the days following the polish student's murder.

A court has heard that Aquilina attended one of the group’s prayer sessions the night before the 29-year-old was killed, and spent the night before the murder at the home of a fellow River of Love member.

The evangelical group's pastor, Manche, has pushed back against any links to the crime and has also started legal action against Times of Malta seeking to have news reports about the crime taken offline.

Bonanno has now launched a crowdfunding campaign seeking to drum up funds to help finance his legal battle, writing in a Bis-Serjetà article that the comments he is being charged with were “ clearly satirical and hyperbolic in nature, and a reaction to this shocking crime.”

“I don’t intend to take this lying down. Help me fight against religious extremists for freedom of expression, satire and opinion,” Bonanno wrote.

Donations had started trickling in by Monday afternoon, he told Times of Malta. The case is scheduled to begin in May. 

Bonanno founded Bis-Serjetà in 2011 and the site has since grown to become Malta’s largest and best-known satirical news site.

The site is renowned for its tongue-in-cheek takes on local news. At the time of publication, its top headlines included ‘Fetus can only be aborted if tests show it is Nationalist, Chris Fearne clarifies’ and ‘Robert Abela co-opts his yacht into parliament’.

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