A man has been given a seven-month suspended jail term after he admitted to hate speech when he commented on Facebook that Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina and his brother Robert, president of Republika, deserved to be “hanged”.
Martin Galea, 56, from Gżira, admitted to writing the comment beneath a post on the Facebook page of news page TVM. He apologised for his actions.
In the news post, TVM reported how Sandro Farrugia had been fined €400 and conditionally discharged for two years after he admitted to writing on Facebook that the brothers deserved “a good beating once and for all”.
Commenting on the post, Galea wrote: “That’s why he was convicted? They deserve to be hanged.” The comment was followed by a smiley face with a teardrop.
Police inspector Joseph Busuttil, prosecuting, said he had received a report by the Aquilina brothers. This had led to the arraignment of Galea who apologised for his actions during his police statement. Busuttil said he had to still go ahead and prosecute since his actions were against the law. Galea was charged with the misuse of electronic equipment to incite hatred last October.
During the submissions on punishment, following Galea’s admission, his defence lawyer Ezekiel Psaila said his client had been using “colloquial language”.
He had not even read the news story he was commenting about and made a mistake by making that comment, he said adding: “He should not be turned into a sacrificial lamb… I want justice, not victims".
Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia stressed that Galea’s language should not be trivialised. She added that the prosecution was asking for a just punishment within the legal parameters, in line with past case law.
“No one is asking for victims - we are not,” she stressed.
Following the guilty plea, the brothers expressed a wish to have their say but the inspector and the defence agreed there was no need as there was an admission.
Robert Aquilina then told the inspector that he would inform the Police Commissioner about this as he wanted to give the context. The inspector took offence and informed the magistrate that he was being “threatened”.
The magistrate then asked the prosecution and the defence to approach the bench as she urged both parties to calm down.
Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit said this was basic education and about Maltese people being respectful towards one another.
“When will we start speaking constructively on social media?” she asked, adding that while it was OK to criticise constructively, firing such comments was not right.
She added that the courts were often targeted by this sort of criticism which sometimes was justified and other times not.
On handing down judgment, she bound Galea not to harass the Aquilina brothers for a year against a €500 fine in default. The seven-month jail term is suspended for 18 months.