Man acquitted of inciting racial hatred against Sara Ezabe

Magistrate Joe Mifsud ruled that the man was simply expressing his opinion in a Facebook post in which he implied that Muslims in Malta were guests and should "go back to their country" if they did not want to abide by the law

Sara Ezabe filed a police complaint over a Facebook post, she felt incited racial hatred
Sara Ezabe filed a police complaint over a Facebook post, she felt incited racial hatred

A court has acquitted a man of abusing social inclusion campaigner Sara Ezabe with a view to inciting racial hatred.

Brandon Bartolo had been charged with the misuse of electronic equipment, using threatening or abusive language with the intention of instigating violence or racial hatred against a person or group of persons and relapsing after making a series of posts on the Ghaqda Patrijotti Maltin Facebook page in connection with the European Court’s decision to ban all religious symbols from the workplace.

Ezabe, a 21 year-old Muslim student who had founded the #RedefiningUs movement, who is also a commissioner of the National Youth Council in Malta, had contacted the police after reading racist comments made in her regard on the group's Facebook page. She was not summoned to testify.

Bartolo had written “Tmur tihdu fox kemm anda … awnhekk edin pajjizna .. ahna religjon wihed biss … huma guests iridu jimxu al ligijiet tagna … ma jogobomx?? Fuck off back to your country!”

Bartolo’s counsel had contested the interpretation of the law relating to incitement to racial hatred, insisting that the legal requisites were not present.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud agreed. “Even if we disregard the mediocrity, many of the comments can be taken as an exercise of freedom of expression by several people. However, other comments go clearly beyond freedom of expression. And when one extreme comment is made, then you start to see a number of others becoming emboldened and encouraged to do the same, by firing off comments recklessly, without attention, measure and limits... dragged by the delirious and mistaken belief that they have the right to say what they like, how they like and however they feel they should say it.” This was where site administrators come in, he said.

The comments showed a strong concern that this country and the EU faced great challenges posed by uncontrolled illegal immigration and that the efforts made so far have not succeeded in tackling the issue.

“Rather, there is a sentiment that the Maltese are being discriminated against in the sense that the media is giving more attention, importance and coverage to the complaints that affect the immigrants than those that affected the Maltese. But then there is a massive drop in the quality of comments that go beyond freedom of expression and criticism about the situation of immigration in Malta and its effects on Malta and the Maltese.”

The court said an analysis of the responsibility of the accused could not concentrate solely on his words in the abstract, but had to be taken in the context of what was being written by other people, as well as the place where it was made.

“Contrary to what a number of individuals think, in a democratic society one cannot say all they want and feel. There are limits established by law that must be observed. The right of commentators to comment may surpass the limits of mediocrity, but never those established in the law."

In this case, the court said, Bartolo had expressed his opinion on a previous post and his intention had been to express his opinion “whether you agree with it or not or the words he used to express this opinion, in the opinion of the court this did not result in damage, annoyance or offence to others.”

The court therefore acquitted Bartolo.

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