A man accused of hate speech over a Facebook comment he posted two years ago, turned up to court on Friday without a lawyer.
Roderick Abela, who represented himself, was conditionally discharged and fined €350.
Abela had commented under a story published on Television Malta’s Facebook page in May 2020 about a group of migrants who were denied entry into Malta and were instead kept on board a Captain Morgan vessel.
“May they all drown because enough is enough… we’re fed up of you, taking us for a ride for 15 years and abusing the generosity of a weak nation lacking guts,” he wrote.
Abela was contacted about the matter more than two years since posting that comment, explained Abela when he turned up for the sitting on Friday, unassisted by a lawyer out of choice.
The delay was in itself not in the interest of justice, started off the man, after informing Magistrate Ian Farrugia that he wished to make some arguments against the charges of incitement to hatred and misuse of electronic communications equipment.
Referring to article 82A of the Criminal Code, the accused argued that his comment did not qualify as “threatening, abusive nor insulting".
Nor had the police produced evidence to show whether the migrants were “muslims, Africans, Hindu…” went on the man, questioning how he could be found guilty of inciting hatred on the basis of race, gender, religion and so forth.
He also lacked criminal intent.
'May they all drown' may have been an 'insensitive comment' and a negative wish but that did not mean that it was illegal, went on Abela, adding that he apologised but stood firm by his arguments in favour of acquittal.
“Your arguments are valid and lucid,” remarked the magistrate when the man standing before him wrapped up his defence.
However, the allegedly offensive post was not to be assessed “in a vacuum,” explained the court, delving into an analysis of the situation, simplifying the legal arguments at stake.
That comment was targeted against a specified group of migrants, within Maltese territorial waters.
The law spoke about the “probability” that such a comment could incite hatred or violence.
As for the criminal intent, that was for the court to determine after assessing the evidence put forward and, in this particular case, evidence pointed in the direction of such criminal intent, explained the magistrate.
“‘May they all drown’ left no doubt as to your intention,” said magistrate Farrugia, pointing out that the charges carried a maximum fine of €25,000.
The accused noted that the “spur of the moment” comment was posted at a time when Malta was facing the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore also reflected “an element of frustration".
The court conditionally discharged the accused for one year and imposed a €350 fine.
“You have a right to an opinion... opinion is free but not absolute,” was the magistrate’s final word of advice.