Updated 4.50pm with Bernard Grech's reaction
Nationalist Party election candidate Emma Portelli Bonnici has called for an end to the “systematic abuse of women” and “witch hunts” after she was inundated by a barrage of hate speech over something she never even said.
The issue was sparked by a press conference on October 21 in which she had said a PN government would provide free contraception and morning-after pills as part of a sexual health strategy it would deliver within six months of being elected.
During the same event, PN health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri was asked whether the PN would include abortion as part of the policy and he said abortion was a subject to be discussed in parliament. The PN was taking the stand to protect life from conception, he said.
Since then, Portelli Bonnici experienced a spiralling increase in hate speech addressed towards her. Portelli Bonnici, who has spoken openly about being pro-choice, said that while she had no problem with people disagreeing with her, she would not accept this harassment.
So she exposed it on Facebook where she chose to name and shame people who called her “satan’s spawn” and told her she "should not exist" and should "go get sterilised".
A priest described the young lawyer as “Hitler, a satanist, a murderer, a butcher and a criminal” over her pro-choice views.
Portelli Bonnici, who leads the Nationalist Party’s group #QattAktar (Never Again) replied: “Yes. I want to name and shame. These are people who know how social media works. If they say something publically they have to take responsibility.
“The default setting is that the hate speech happens and it's mostly by the same people - mostly men - including a priest. But since a press conference two weeks ago in which Stephen Spiteri called for a debate on abortion, it exploded. I was not the one to call for the debate but people accused me because I was the woman sitting there. Other than voicing my own personal views, I haven’t called for anything. I exist and they don’t like it,” she told Times of Malta when contacted.
She is considering filing a police report.
The 29-year-old lawyer wrote on Facebook: “The systematic abuse of women who dare speak about controversial issues, who hold public roles, or who have the audacity to disagree with archaic norms is unacceptable. It’s time up for gender-based abuse…. Time up for witch hunts. It's time to once and for all cleanse politics from symptoms of the Puritan Age and 1600s Salem. You can’t just burn intelligent, unafraid women at the stake anymore - no matter how hard you try.
Several pro-choice activists have previously expressed the way they were systematically targeted online because of their views.
Break patriarchal mentality of aggression: Bernard Grech
On Thursday afternoon Opposition leader Bernard Grech slammed a patriarchal mentality that attacked women who expressed their opinion.
He told Facebook followers that a civilised society should allow for respectful debates that do not descend into personal attacks.
"This must be defended wherever discussions take place: in our homes, at the workplace, in public or on social media. What happened in the past days to Emma Portelli Bonnici is another unacceptable example of something nobody should have to endure.
"We need to keep working to break this patriarchal mentality of aggression towards a woman whenever she expresses an opinion."