Acid attack threat: Malta must end its culture of impunity

03 March 2023

Not for the first time this week we call attention to the Maltese State’s positive obligation to uphold and protect fundamental rights. That obligation includes ensuring that those rights are exercised without fear of reprisal, and that authorities move swiftly when retaliation is threatened to ensure that perpetrators do not enjoy impunity.

On Wednesday, rule of law NGO Repubblika called a press conference outside a publicly-owned building that disgraced former prime minister, Joseph Muscat, currently uses as his private office. While activists held up a banner saying “korruzzjoni” (corruption), Repubblika president Robert Aquilina addressed reporters saying that “Muscat and his accomplices’ place is in jail,” and that “it is crucial that those tainted by corruption, abuse and fraud, are prosecuted in court to be served justice.” After addressing reporters, Aquilina placed a placard reading “Joseph Muscat, Prim Korrott” on the door of the building.

Repubblika’s actions followed the previous week’s court judgement ordering the rescission and annulment, on the grounds of fraud, of Malta Government’s three contracts and side agreements with Vitals Global Healthcare, and later Steward Healthcare, concerning the privatisation of three of Malta’s public hospitals. The deal was overseen by Joseph Muscat during his tenure as prime minister.

In reaction, a certain Johan Beverley Vella, published a post saying “With all respect, if a clown like this sticks trash on my property I would throw a barrel of acid at him” and questioning what right he had to “go and vandalise someone’s door” (“Birispet kollu kiku purcinel phal dan iwahalli limbaraz ma hwejgi landa actu nifalu blima jedd imur jamel vandalizmu ma bieb in nies min jahseb li u la landa skart.”) Repubblika’s president has filed a police report about the matter.

It is disturbing this was not the first time Repubblika’s president has been the target of threats and hateful insults. The declaration of violent sentiment towards an activist exercising his fundamental rights reflects the culture of impunity identified by the public inquiry into the circumstances of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

As we said in a statement earlier this week, activists should be free to voice their opinion about government malfeasance without fear of reprisal and the State has a duty to protect that freedom.