Sol­i­dar­ity with David Lind­say

The ed­i­tor of The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day, David Lind­say, is be­ing sued for crim­i­nal li­bel in con­nec­tion with the news item he pub­lished about the Libya visa scam.

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Dr Si­mon Mer­cieca is se­nior lec­turer, Depart­ment of His­tory

While I have no prob­lem with edi­tors be­ing sued for pub­lish­ing un­truths, there are dif­fer­ent types of li­bel. Even in Malta, we have both what is be­ing termed ‘stan­dard li­bel’ and ‘crim­i­nal li­bel’. Nor­mally, in­di­vid­u­als sue only for pe­cu­niary com­pen­sa­tion. In this case, the ed­i­tor is be­ing sued for crim­i­nal li­bel, which means that the Po­lice Com­mis­sioner has been asked to re­quest the stiffest penalty, prison, should David Lind­say be found guilty. To add in­sult to in­jury, the per­son mak­ing this re­quest on be­half of Mr Neville Gafa’ is for­mer Po­lice Com­mis­sioner, Peter Paul Zam­mit.

This sit­u­a­tion raises a num­ber of le­git­i­mate ques­tions. Why is Mr Neville Gafa su­ing only David Lind­say and not also the per­son who broke the story who hap­pens to be none other than Al­leanza Bidla’s leader, Ivan Grech Mintoff? Is it not the duty of the me­dia, in any free Euro­pean state, to re­port any se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions com­ing from a re­li­able source? In this case, the source of these re­ports is well known – Mr Ivan Grech Mintoff. But in­stead of in­ves­ti­gat­ing these al­le­ga­tions, the Po­lice Com­mis­sioner is now ap­pear­ing to be in ca­hoots with Gafa’ and his le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive, in an at­tempt to send a news­pa­per ed­i­tor to prison. The fact is that Mr Neville Gafa’ has cold feet and is not pre­pared to also sue Mr Grech Mintoff. This only goes to prove that what Mr Grech Mintoff says is true and that the ed­i­tor pub­lished noth­ing but the truth.

It is a known fact that the po­lice, in clear breach of pro­fes­sional se­crecy, leaked par­tic­u­lars con­cern­ing Mr Ivan Grech Mintoff to Mal­taTo­day. Mal­taTo­day broke the news that Mr Grech Mintoff was go­ing to the de­pot to give the po­lice in­for­ma­tion about this case. This piece of news was pub­lished well be­fore the meet­ing had taken place and the only ones who knew about this meet­ing were Mr Grech Mintoff and the po­lice. This is ex­tremely se­ri­ous, as well as dan­ger­ous. I have seen doc­u­ments and mes­sages re­lated to this case. Some of these doc­u­ments have al­ready ap­peared in the press.

But there is an­other im­por­tant devel­op­ment, which Mr Lind­say could con­sider a bless­ing in dis­guise. Mr Grech Mintoff is al­leg­ing that a num­ber of Libyans want to come to Malta to tes­tify about the visa scams but that the gov­ern­ment is hin­der­ing them by re­fus­ing to is­sue them a visa. Since the po­lice started crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings, these in­di­vid­u­als should be named as wit­nesses. In the­ory, the gov­ern­ment can­not stop them from com­ing or de­posit­ing their tes­ti­monies, in­clud­ing sworn writ­ten af­fi­davits in court. This case will make his­tory once it gets go­ing, which brings me to two other im­por­tant points.

The first is the mes­sage that Pierre Portelli, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of The Malta In­de­pen­dent, wrote on his Face­book page. He ac­cuses the gov­ern­ment of – de­spite its stand in favour of civil lib­er­ties – turn­ing to the po­lice to si­lence the Press. In Europe, these tac­tics are to­day associated with to­tal­i­tar­ian states.

I would re­mind the gov­ern­ment that civil lib­er­ties are worth­less when ac­com­pa­nied by op­pres­sive poli­cies. The first coun­try to make trans­gen­der op­er­a­tions pos­si­ble was Ger­many – to be pre­cise, the Weimar Repub­lic. But to­day it is not re­mem­bered for the in­tro­duc­tion of such an ad­vanced con­cept of civil lib­erty, but for be­ing the har­bin­ger of the ex­treme right com­ing to power. When the Nazis took power, very few wept for the loss of democ­racy since the pre­vi­ous sys­tem in Ger­many was only demo­cratic in name while the coun­try suf­fered from a run­ning in­fla­tion.

This gov­ern­ment should be on its guard for the way those who are very close to it use the po­lice to achieve their own po­lit­i­cal ends. The im­pres­sion that is be­ing con­veyed is that be­hind these ends lie fi­nan­cial and oil in­ter­ests.

There are other his­tor­i­cal prece­dents that have ex­pe­ri­enced the dan­ger in adopt­ing such meth­ods. When, for sin­is­ter mo­tives, a democ­racy starts re­sort­ing to the po­lice to si­lence the op­po­si­tion, democ­racy is in trou­ble. In the minds of many, democ­racy be­gins to ap­pear as an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Con­se­quen­tially, the his­tory of bru­tal regimes will start to be re­vised and they will once again ap­peal to so­ci­ety.

Then there is the is­sue of whether Mr Peter Paul Zam­mit, who is ap­pear­ing in this case for Neville Gafa’, has a direct con­flict of in­ter­est, first be­cause he is a le­gal con­sul­tant to the gov­ern­ment and se­condly, it is im­por­tant to es­tab­lish, whether, when he was Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice, he in­ves­ti­gated or not al­le­ga­tions of visa cor­rup­tion that the Labour Me­dia was pub­lish­ing against Ms Marisa Far­ru­gia. These sto­ries were be­ing pub­lished in the Labour press when Mr Zam­mit was Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice. His po­si­tion in this case con­sti­tutes what is clearly a direct con­flict of in­ter­est. I am in­ter­ested to know what the stand of the Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates is about this point.

Hence, Mr Lind­say should not fear. I am cer­tain that he will prove his story and I am sure that Mr Ivan Grech Mintoff will pro­duce all the nec­es­sary ev­i­dence to sup­port what The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day has pub­lished, if he is asked to ap­pear as wit­ness. In fact, the whole case is re­volv­ing more around le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity rather than around the truth of the pub­lished facts. The pre­text here is that The Malta In­de­pen­dent failed to pub­lish a proper right of re­ply, be­cause it in­cluded the right of re­ply as part of an ar­ti­cle and was not pub­lished as a stand­alone piece. I find this ar­gu­ment by Mr Gafa’ and his le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive ex­tremely shal­low. For this rea­son, I agree whole­heart­edly with those who are ar­gu­ing that this is purely a pre­text to bully The Malta In­de­pen­dent into si­lence.

The point that is be­ing over­looked here is that the law of crim­i­nal li­bel is very tricky. Those who re­sort to it should be sure of their facts. They should not rush in, ea­ger to claim their pound of flesh. In their ea­ger­ness to pros­e­cute the free press, those re­sort­ing to these tac­tics do not re­al­ize that the in­her­ent law of crim­i­nal li­bel is a dou­ble-edged sword, which is not to be found in stan­dard li­bel cases.

If Mr Lind­say proves his case and there­fore what he stated is the truth, the mat­ter should not end there. One ex­pects that crim­i­nal charges will be in­sti­tuted against Neville Gafa’ for hav­ing lodged a false re­port and wast­ing pre­cious court time. These charges carry a prison sen­tence too.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent Mon­day 17 Oc­to­ber 2016

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