Updated Tuesday 5.43pm
A migrant riot at the open centre in Ħal Far was met with a public outrage that quickly ballooned into disturbing violent and illegal hate speech on social media.
News reports posted on Facebook documenting the Sunday night riot amassed hundreds of comments yesterday.
Times of Malta calculated that a fifth of the 500 comments on just one post from a news organisation directly incited violence or threatened death to migrants.
“Men, women, or children, shoot to kill all of them,” one commentator wrote.
“Since hunters don’t have an outlet to vent anymore, let’s open season on these bastards,” said another.
According to Maltese law, hate speech is a threat or insult directed at a member of a recognised minority group.
It is punishable by up to 18 months in prison, along with hefty fines stretching into thousands of euros.
Among the most troubling comments were those that invoked the systematic murder of European Jews during the Holocaust in the 1940s. “They need a Hitler-style gassing,” one man wrote.
These are not just reprehensible hateful talk but can have deadly consequences
“If I were in charge, I’d set all of them on fire, Hitler style,” said another, adding a devil horn and black heart emojis.
Some commentators went as far as to praise Lorin Scicluna and Francesco Fenech, the two soldiers accused of the racially-motivated murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane, from Ivory Coast, in a drive-by shooting in April.
Former president speaks out
President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said hate speech was an abuse of freedom of expression and a violation of the rights of others.
"When used as a weapon, social media gives rise to hate speech and I firmly believe that as a nation we should be do everything possible to stamp this out," she wrote on Facebook.
Human rights NGO Aditus responded to the comments by detailing how people can take action against hate speech.
It said in a Facebook post: "Responding to violence with this language does absolutely nothing to deal with or solve the problem."
Alexander Hili, who previously ran SOS Malta’s #StopHate campaign, which tried to tackle the country’s online hate speech problem, said any mention of migrants in a negative light is usually accompanied with an increase in online hate speech.
“People think these migrants are living some sort of life of luxury, but there’s a reason why they’re rioting,” Mr Hili said.
“They have been living in cramped and unsanitary conditions for months and their complaints about this have been ignored for a long time.”
All comments flagged to Times of Malta have been reported to the police.
In a landmark judgment last January, a man who had been acquitted of incitement to racial hatred towards a Muslim Maltese woman through a foul-mouthed post, was handed a suspended sentence.
UNHCR Malta Representative Kahin Ismail said: “Though we understand the public interest that such issue may generate, it is sad to see the level of vitriol hatred comments being directed at refugees and migrants. Some of the comments which clearly incite violence are not only unacceptable but transgress on existing laws.
“I certainly agree with the Prime Minister’s statement in applying the law equally to everyone and therefore hope the full extent of the law is used to stop certain people calling for the physical harm of refugees and migrants. These are not just reprehensible hateful talk but can have deadly consequences.”
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