Alfred and George Degiorgio have complained about conditions in prison and argued that they have already been condemned as guilty, despite the presumption of innocence.

The brothers are awaiting trial as alleged hitmen in the car bomb explosion that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia,

They have been held in preventive custody for four years and eight months and say that the courts’ repeated refusal to deny them bail breaches their rights.

Both men testified in the Valletta law courts on Friday morning, as part of a constitutional case they have filed seeking compensation for their failure to be granted bail. 

 Every time the courts deny them bail on grounds of public disorder, they are effectively sending out a message that the two should not get out of jail, they are arguing.

No questions asked, says Degiorgio

Alfred Degiorgio was the first of the two to testify on Friday, telling the court that the police had held them at the Marsa potato shed where they were arrested early in the morning of December 5, 2017 until 10.30pm that night. 

Interrogators “did not ask anything” of them after they were arrested, he said. 

Police had testified at the time that the brothers had not requested lawyers during their interrogation and refused to answer any questions put to them. 

The brothers had not requested bail when they were first arraigned but filed several such requests in the weeks, months and years that followed. All were rejected.

“We are already condemned in jail. We should be presumed innocent, but I feel that we are not,” said the witness.

Every time they requested bail, they were met with an argument about public disorder.

“So I ask, when we reach trial stage, wouldn’t that argument also apply? Won’t the jurors who will judge us, also have an issue of public disorder,” he asked.

Life in CCF's 'punishment division'

The accused had also attempted another constitutional case regarding this issue, but the outcome was equally unsuccessful, explained Alfred, next shedding light on life at Corradino’s Division 5, commonly known as “the punishment division”.

“What do you mean,” asked Madam Justice Miriam Hayman.

“If there is an inmate who causes some disturbance, he is transferred to that division,” explained the witness.

But life in that division meant that inmates had no access to “church or school”.

“Nothing… we are isolated from all else,” he complained.

“You just get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and then there is nothing else to do.”

At Division 5 there was no access to the gym and other facilities, like in the other areas.

Prisoners were allowed outside their cell during fixed intervals throughout the day but even meeting their lawyer presented difficulties since the conversation had to be conducted across a glass screen when the lawyer brought along documents. 

When there were no documents to discuss, inmates were allowed a contact visit. 

They had a one-hour weekly visit with family which took place inside a tiny glass enclosure without a fan, while other inmates in other divisions had proper visiting rooms. 

As for meals, prior to COVID-19, inmates were granted permission to get food from outside Corradino, but since the pandemic outbreak, they have no choice.

“We eat it because we have no choice,” said Alfred Degiorgio, when asked what was wrong with prison food. 

He finally recalled one occasion when they had suggested electronic tagging and retiring to Corradino by 5pm.

Former prison director Alex Dalli had testified that such a system would allow remote monitoring of inmates. However, the judge had once again turned down their request, stating that the court could not tell which third parties the Degiorgios might meet once they stepped outside jail. 

George Degiorgio claims discrimination

George Degiorgio took the witness stand next, mainly confirming all that his brother had told the court. 

Asked whether he wished to add anything, he said.

“What may I add? About the discrimination we are facing in the way we are being detained and also in respect of bail.”

They had filed “many” requests but all were denied. 

“As Maltese citizens we have a right to bail. Isn’t that the Constitution? Doesn’t that apply to us too? We didn’t buy a passport…,” George remarked, before his lawyer asked him not to digress. 

“Compared to other inmates, we feel that we are discriminated against,” he finished off. 

Earlier before the hearing, prison officials were rapped by the judge for failing to escort the Degiorgios to court.

The hearing was scheduled at 10.30am but just before it was due to start, their lawyer, William Cuschieri, informed Judge Hayman that one of his clients had called to tell him that they had not been escorted to the courthouse. 

A prison guard told the court that the Degiorgios were not included in the list of inmates to be brought to court on Friday.

The judge directed her deputy registrar to contact CCF to seek an explanation and ordered that the brothers be brought to court within 30 minutes or else prison authorities would face charges of contempt. 

The sitting was momentarily suspended until the brothers, both smartly dressed in dark suits, appeared in court under the usual tight escort. 

The case continues in August.

Lawyer William Cuschieri assisted the applicants. State Advocate Chris Soler represented the respondents. Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia represented the Caruana Galizia family. 

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