Police have launched an investigation after Times of Malta revealed how a group of people urged a man in crisis to jump off a Valletta bastion on Friday morning.
Sources told Times of Malta that police are investigating whether the people were instigating the man to commit suicide, an alleged violation that carries a 12-year prison sentence.
Earlier on Friday, police and rescue workers successfully talked down the man, who had been sitting with his legs dangling off the side of the bastion and pacing at the top for two hours.
At several points, he could be seen gesturing and speaking in an agitated voice.
Some bystanders however showed little sympathy for the man’s situation, as several people in a crowd that gathered to watch jeered and encouraged the man to jump.
Footage of the incident captured by Times of Malta has since been shared widely, with many expressing outrage and incredulity at the behaviour of the people jeering at a man in distress.
What does the law say?
According to the Criminal Code, anyone who "shall prevail on any person to commit suicide or shall give him any assistance, shall, if the suicide takes place, be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve years".
While the crisis that unfolded on Friday morning was resolved, sources say the police are still considering comments encouraging the man to jump and making fun of him as a potential breach of the law.
Article 41 of the Criminal Code further says that anyone who intends to commit a crime can be liable to conviction if the "crime was not completed in consequence of some accidental cause independent of the will of the offender".
Psychiatrist Mark Xuereb, who was present on-site with the crisis resolution team, told Times of Malta that the jeers could be heard all the way up from Hastings gardens and that they were actively interfering with attempts to calm the man down.
“While we were trying to help, these people were encouraging death,” Xuereb said.
“It’s utterly shameful and disgusting and we need to do better. It was a tense hour where we were very careful what to say and not to say, and the people in City Gate were destroying what we were trying to achieve.”
What has the reaction been?
In response to the footage, social media lit up in public outrage. Many took offence to the comments made and questioned why a person would demonstrate such a lack of compassion in the face of an apparent crisis. Others said they were “shocked and disappointed” and that they had “lost their faith in humanity”.
“I get that entertainment comes in different forms to different types of people but I literally cannot understand how encouraging death and enjoying watching someone come to the verge of suicide could pose a quick laugh,” one commenter said.
Writer Mel Hart said such incidents were what informed her decision to leave the country.
“What happened today in Valletta is a stark reminder of why I left Malta. Something is rotten and Malta’s psyche has been infected. With what, I don’t know, but it’s sick,” she said.
President emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca described the incident as “shocking and frightful”.
“Is this is how much some people weigh the value of human life?” she said.
“Where is our society going?”
Opposition Leader Bernard Grech said that there was a greater need for people to “take care of each other”.
“We all not only have a civil obligation towards each other but a moral obligation to stand with each other if we truly want to strengthen the Maltese family,” he said.
Grech added if people weren’t sure how to behave, they should call the police or an emergency line.
“Let us show empathy and respect to each other in our most fragile moments and not let the first thing that comes to our mind be sensationalist or a rush to film a video on our phones,” he continued.
“Remember it could have been you or me. We know better than this”.
NGOs and social groups have also spoken out condemning the incident.
SOS Malta said it was saddened that people had chosen “ridicule and abuse” instead of “solidarity and compassion”.
“We do not know what the person on top of the walls was going through and that is not our job to assume, however as people who live together in a society that is more becoming disconnected and uncaring it is worrying the trend showing lack of compassion and care,” they said.
MGRM said that it and other NGOs have been highlighting a “steady and alarming” increase in hate speech over the past few years.
“We have opened countless reports, none of which have been brought to completion. The goodwill exists, but the law remains toothless. A quick look at most comment boards and several Facebook groups immediately shows how massive the problem is,” they said.
“One of the solutions to this problem is the Equality Bill which we hope should be enacted soon by Parliament. The law as it is drafted, includes mental health as a protected characteristic, clearing the way for effectively addressing this enormous problem in Malta right now.”
The Alliance for Mental Health said that more education was needed to prevent such incidents.
“We need to educate the general public that anyone on any ‘ledge’ is to be listened to, heard and helped,” they said.
“No one stands on the ledge for attention, any person who puts themselves on the 'ledge' is in a state of extreme distress. Being sensitive and kind towards all those around us is what prevents suicide.”
Victim Support Malta echoed the sentiment, adding that attempting suicide is not “attention-seeking or entertaining”, but rather something that requires “immediate help and support”.
The Maltese Association for Social Workers also explored the "public insensitivity".
"This shows that as a society, we still have a long way to go when it comes to mental health awareness," it said.
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