Matthew Grech, a member of the controversial evangelist movement River of Love, has been summoned to the criminal court for allegedly breaching Malta’s gay conversion therapy ban.
A volunteer with the gender confusion support group Core Issues Trust, Grech was reported for allegedly promoting conversion therapy when he appeared as a guest on a PMnews Malta website programme.
But he says in a video posted on his Facebook page on Sunday that all he did was share his experience as a former homosexual who “left homosexuality”.
The PMnews programme allegedly breached the promotion clause of Malta’s gay conversion therapy ban, established in 2016.
Along with Grech, two PMnews presenters have also received a criminal summons. All three will appear in court on February 3 to face charges for advertising gay conversion therapy, Grech says.
He described PMnews, founded in February 2022 by Mario Camilleri and Rita Bonnici, as a “conservative platform” that is still in its infancy.
“We were just having a conversation as we have a right to in this country... So, for us, it is unthinkable to get to this point,” he says.
If found guilty, Grech faces up to €5,000 in fines or up to five months in prison.
The charges come days after Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms and Equality Rebecca Buttigieg announced strengthening the current ban.
The new amendment will redefine the law to clarify what it means to “advertise conversion practices,” expanding it to include the publishing, advertising, displaying, distributing, referral and circulation of any material promoting the practice.
Later in the video, Grech accuses Buttigieg of “revenge”, referring to her comments regarding Matthew Bonanno’s court summons, for allegedly threatening the River of Love with satirical Facebook comments.
"Her comments sound like a political vendetta.... by a government seduced by the LGBT lobby," Grech says.
In January 2022, Bonanno 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”.
Bonanno was served with a court summons on January 9 for misusing electronic equipment to threaten the commission of a crime.
Buttigieg expressed her wish for more satire in the country and told Times of Malta that Thursday’s amendments “will fully condemn messages coming from persons and this group (River of Love), which ultimately preaches hate”.
"But why did she not specify and make clear which messages she was referring to? Why was she using her position in government to involve herself in a criminal case while saying she did not want to get involved in the merits of the case. When commenting in such a way, I'm sorry, but she is getting involved," he continues.
He criticises the Parliamentary Secretary for calling for more satire without condemning Bonanno's comment, sort of rendering her "an accomplice".
He also criticises her for condemning the messages coming from River of Love. “We are preaching that homosexuality is a sin. We preach the word of God and the New Testament,” Grech insists.
He asks whether the gay conversion therapy being referred to was the recounting of experiences of people who managed to get out of homosexual behaviour. "Does the government want to stop the word of God... Who do you think you are to go against God, against Christ himself," he asks.
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri also took to Facebook - to reinforce the government’s stance on gay conversion therapy.
Malta was the first EU state to take such a step, he said.
“Episodes like these show us how much the reforms and work on equality should continue. It is everyone's right to live their lives in the sexual orientation that distinguishes them.”
This is not the first time that Grech has drawn the media’s attention over his homophobic stances. In 2018, he appeared on X Factor as a singer and spoke about his life as a gay man before he found Jesus.
At the time, Grech sent an email to Times of Malta clarifying that his comments were not homophobic. He claimed that his “same-sex attraction” was not a sin, rather his sexual practices were sinful in the eyes of God.