The terror of Robespierre

You cannot praise Angelo Gafà for being a serious guy one day, and then choose to paste him on a poster and accuse him of being shameful and ‘unwilling’ to act the next

A few years back when Karl Stagno-Navarra was a journalist with the newspaper Illum (and nowhere close to being a Labourite propagandist) he wrote a report about Michael Falzon, then Labour’s deputy leader for party affairs. In one of those Sunday sermons, Falzon had reacted to a MaltaToday report by unleashing a torrent of libel suits.

In his political speech of 6 May 2007, Falzon had said that he had then received an anonymous email and threatening letter, and was very clear when he publicly said that he had “given the authority” to the Commissioner of Police to take action against the person suspected of having sent him the anonymous threat. Stagno Navarra had written the report.

Both myself and Michael Falzon (the former PN minister, a MaltaToday columnist) then wrote about the matter itself. Falzon’s column was titled “Policing one’s enemies”, prompted by his namesake’s speech on the Sunday before.

Falzon questioned the manner in which the two main political parties perceived the police force as a body that serves the political class and not public interest: “I say this with deep regret, but I can only be seriously perturbed by the ease with which MLP deputy leader Michael Falzon persuaded the Commissioner of Police to investigate the source of a trivial and unimportant anonymous e-mail that he had received. More so, when this e-mail could only have been misguidedly considered ‘suspicious’, and even then in an absolutely far-fetched way, in the context of the infighting and internal feuds within the MLP,” Falzon wrote in his opinion piece.

“So what is the government doing about this? Does the MLP Deputy Leader who happens to be my namesake, carry more weight and influence with the Commissioner of Police than the Deputy Prime Minister who is politically responsible for the Police Force?”

Illum had also revealed that the Commissioner of Police John Rizzo had zealously acted on his Falzon’s speech at once, and soon, the author of that email – who had actually been an admirer of Labour’s Falzon – was questioned by the police and put on police bail. That man happened to be no other than well-known TV chef Anton B. Dougall.

What happened next was surreal. Michael Falzon (PL) sued Illum, myself and his namesake Michael Falzon. He won all these cases. Illum lost the appeal, and took the case to the Constitutional Court. So did columnist Michael Falzon. We all lost the case in the country’s highest court, a decision confirmed again on appeal.

Now, the years post-2008 had seen us being starved of government advertising, blocked then by the staff of Lawrence Gonzi as part of a strategy to spurn all those critical of the Nationalist administration. Spending more money on legal cases was not an option.

So it was left to columnist Michael Falzon to singularly pursue the matter at the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the courts in Malta breached his fundamental human rights. Falzon won the case and was awarded damages, an event which says more about our courts than our mediocre media and political class.

I write this now, for two reasons.

The first is because most readers would have forgotten this story, and secondly to revisit the sensitive subject of the demands by Repubblika’s action outside the police HQ earlier last week. They are calling on the Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà to nail the ‘bastard’ and incarcerate Konrad Mizzi. The Caruana Galizia family say the same.

But the truth is that, no matter how unpopular I may sound saying this, the demand by anyone to call for someone to be prosecuted and jailed without respecting the course of justice or the needs of a proper investigation, might come across as an over-zealous attempt to short-circuit due process, just like Robespierre’s anarchism in the French revolution.

Former minister Konrad Mizzi was sadly the most untrustworthy individual around, and his political energy is now overshadowed by the machinations of Panamagate. But having said that, the course of justice cannot be dictated by the whims of either some kangaroo court or a group which assumes for itself that justice has to work the way they see fit.

And you cannot praise Gafà for being a serious guy one day, and then choose to paste him on a poster and accuse him of being shameful and ‘unwilling’ to act the next. Repubblika are naturally quick to point their finger at Prime Minister Robert Abela as well; but the fact is that so far, short of resigning to hand over the keys of Castille to Bernard Grech, Abela did manage, against all expectations, to tick all the right boxes since he replaced Joseph Muscat, introduce reforms and legislation and taking bold steps whenever it was needed.

Let’s keep our feet on the ground. Nobody expects Abela to decapitate the Commissioner of Police to hand over the command to Repubblika and then shoot himself in some last act of redemption. Yes: justice must be served, but not by some kangaroo court by partisan lobbies. Everyone wants a meaningful, long-term overhaul of our police, institutions and judiciary. It must be a reform that is fair for everyone. 

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Sister newspaper Illum has launched a ‘Kampanja kontra l-Ħniżrijiet fil-Ħabs’ to fight the defamation cases by top prison officials with the blessing of Home Affairs minister Byron Camilleri against this newspaper. It is about campaigning to have human dignity at Kordin.  Illum needs all the help it can get.