The Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms and Equality, Rebecca Buttigieg, has criticised the River of Love following the evangelist movement’s criminal complaint against the owner of the satirical news site Bis-Serjetà, and said Malta needs space for satire.

On Monday, Matthew Bonnano was served a court summons by police for having allegedly threatened the movement with a Facebook comment a year ago. He had 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”.

The head of the River of Love, Gordon Manche, subsequently filed a criminal complaint.

At the time when Bonanno posted the comment, River of Love was in the media’s spotlight due to their potential ties to alleged murderer Abner Aquilina.

Aquilina stands charged with murdering Paulina Dembska on January 2  last year after having attended a River of Love meeting the night before.

Manche denies any ties between the River of Love and Aquilina.

Buttigieg said that she could not speak about the ongoing police investigation but she said she condemned the message which stemmed from the action by River of Love as “unacceptable.” She expressed her wish for space for satire within the country.

Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg commenting on Matthew Bonanno's charges. Video: Jonathan Borg.

“The amendment we announced today will fully condemn messages coming from persons and this group which ultimately preaches hate – and everyone knows what River of Love means,” she said, referring to a legislative amendment that will strengthen the law banning gay conversion therapy.

“Our role as the government is to condemn the messages that are coming from the same people who filed the criminal complaint”.

Gay conversion therapy has in the past been linked to the evangelist movement River of Love, which organised a faith conversion event in 2011, entitled Gay No More. 

In 2015, Times of Malta exposed how River of Love pastor Gordon Manché's psychologist wife had started treating a gay man for his homosexuality. She denied the allegations. 

On Wednesday former Minister Evarist Bartolo also criticised the police action against Bonanno, saying his Facebook comment was  “obviously satirical”.

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