Truth be Told blogger Manuel Delia is claiming that the authorities are breaching his right to freedom of expression when denying him free access to prison and detention centres.

Several requests over the past 10 months, for access to the Corradino Correctional Facility and detention centres, have failed to achieve the desired result, Delia has claimed in an application filed before the First Hall, Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction. 

The limited access, he claims, has prevented him from carrying out a first-hand check of living conditions and disciplinary measures to verify allegations about mistreatment of inmates and detainees.

The case was filed against Home Affairs minister Byron Camilleri, his permanent secretary, the director and CEO of Corradino Correctional Facility, the Head of Detention Services, the Principal Immigration Officer and the State Advocate.

Following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the blogger said, he had filed fresh requests, especially after a social media influencer, known as Terry ta’ Bormla, posted an online session about a recent visit to prison.

Finally, an e-mail from the customer care coordinator at the Home Affairs Ministry, dated August 21, instructed Delia to put his request formally to the Correctional Services Agency CEO.

A revised protocol on media access to prison had recently been approved, allowing such access and thus paving the path to the journalist’s visit to Corradino on September 1.

So far, access to detention centres has not yet been granted.

Delia’s visit happened 10 months after a report published by Times of Malta in October 2019, about a group of migrants who were allegedly “manhandled in prison, cooped up, hosed down like animals.” Those allegations were denied by the authorities.

The spate of suicides and deaths behind prison walls, further spurred on the journalist to seek access, to personally attest and report on conditions behind prison walls.

Yet when access was finally allowed, all he was afforded was a limited inspection, without being allowed to access Divisions 5 and 6, as well as the sanitary facilities inside Divisions 2 and 3.

During the visit, Delia was presented with “a controlled and manipulated version” by the prison director who confirmed the use of inhuman and degrading methods, such as the “restraining chair,” intended to instil fear among prisoners.

That limited access meant that the journalist, as a public watchdog against state monopoly on controlled information, could not confirm allegations of overcrowding in prison cells, poor hygiene and other factors impacting the physical and psychological health of those in custody.

Such denial of free and unhindered access meant that “objective and balanced information” was not forthcoming, Delia's lawyers said in the court application.

The authorities’ attitude was bound to create a “chilling effect” on independent and investigative reporting, the lawyers argued, adding that the alleged mistreatment of prisoners breached fundamental rights and could not be laid to rest simply through an internal inquiry.

Moreover, denying free access to journalists was also in breach of the right to freedom of expression, said the applicant, requesting the court to declare such breach, to authorize him to interview detainees and also to liquidate non-pecuniary damages or provide any other appropriate measure.

Lawyers Paul Borg Olivier, Andrew Borg Cardona and Eve Borg Costanzi signed the application.

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