Condemnation of insults at Italian journalist by anti-immigration supporters of Gafà

Anti-immigration firebrand Neville Gafà charged with threatening Italian journalist on Twitter

The twitter exchange between Neville Gafa and Sebastiano Scavo
The twitter exchange between Neville Gafa and Sebastiano Scavo

Well-known Italian journalist Sebastiano (Nello) Scavo has told a court that alleged threats made by Neville Gafà ended up being discussed in the Italian Parliament. 

Scavo, who works with the influential Milanese newspaper Avvenire, said that he would often tweet about the suffering of migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea. 

Gafà, a former OPM official and one-time Projects Director in the Ministry for Health, is being accused of threatening Scavo on 27 June when he tweeted to Scavo, telling him to “Stop your dirty business. If not we will be stopping you.”

Magistrate Charmaine Galea heard how Scavo had filed a criminal complaint on 5 August about the social media message.

Scavo, of Como, told the court that he felt very threatened by Gafà’s comment and wanted to know who these people who would be stopping him from talking about immigration were.

“Gafà could have opted not to reply, but instead replied with a threat,” said the journalist in court today.

The original tweet had been made by rescue organisation Alarm Phone, he said. In his tweet he had begged Europe to stop the killing of humans at sea. Scavo didn’t know Gafà personally and had never met him, he said. 

Scavo presented a number of comments downloaded from Twitter made by various users, some of whom he recognised as Italians.

He felt threatened because despite giving Gafà the opportunity to explain the threat, not wanting to create any controversy, he said that he had not taken action in Italy, but that the Italian police had placed him under protection.

He had informed the Italian authorities about this and there was a discussion in Italian parliament on the subject.

He said he did not know if there were criminal proceedings underway, as in Italy the police inform journalists whenever an investigation is underway.

Inspector Lydon Zammit, testifying said Gafà had admitted, during his questioning, to writing the comment at his Mellieha home, but had said that he had no intention of threatening the journalist.

The case continues on 15 October. Lawyer Edward Gatt appeared for Gafà, lawyer Kris Busietta appeared for Scavo.

 

"By looking away we become accomplices" - Repubblika

In a press conference outside the court house this morning, Repubblika reiterated its sympathy and support to Scavo, who it said, had to face serious threats merely for doing his job.

Scavo was working with other journalists in Malta and Italy to investigate the conducts of governments in fulfilling their responsibilities with respect to rescue at sea.

“They [migrants] are exploited by slavers in Libya and traffickers on their way out. And if we too abandon them to their fate in our seas, we’d be participating in the chain of cruelty. Last April the Maltese government conducted itself abysmally. Several international laws were broken, but more importantly too many people died. And too many people were sent back to Libya to torture, rape and slavery.
We would never have known of their fate without the hard work of journalists like Nello Scavo.”

“By looking away we become accomplices in the unlawful acts of our governments. And we need to know because what our governments will do to the weakest among us, they will do to us when they can afford to.”

Republika praised Scavo - who is forced to live under armed guard because of threats to his life - for his courage.

It pledged to stand with the IĠM and with journalists covering crime and politics in Malta. 

The court case against Neville Gafà is for the court to decide, said the NGO, but pointed out that Gafà “is not new to threats to journalists. He has vilified and threatened many of our own.”

Learning from Caruana Galizia’s untimely death was the only way to prevent similar attacks on journalists, argued Repubblika. “Journalists in Malta face real danger. If they do their job as well as Daphne did, they can fully expect to be killed. And yet no journalist in Malta is given police protection. And that does not mean they don’t need it.”

It accused the government of “continuing to lead the charge of isolating and demonising critical, independent journalists” and habitually ignoring questions from investigative journalists.

Gafà was an agent of the harassment, intrusion, intimidation and oppression Caruana Galizia lived under till her murder, reads the organisation’s statement.

“We are here to stand by Nello Scavo and all journalists who strive to reveal the truth. Repubblika rose in the wake of Daphne’s killing. Our only regret is that we showed up too late for her. But we will not make the same mistake.”

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom condemned the insults faced by Scavo as he left the court in Valletta.

“We welcome the fact that the judge recognised the editorial staff of Avvenire and the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) as civil parties in the criminal trial, as it gives appropriate recognition to the chilling effect on media freedom of threats against a reporter, beyond the immediate case at hand.

“We further recall that the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was preceded by years of verbal threats, attacks on her home, vexatious legal actions and other forms of harassment. Verbal threats from government officials and high-profile individuals, in particular, demonise the media and independent scrutiny and can, if unaddressed, lead to physical acts of violence and send a message of impunity. A verdict will be pronounced on 15 October 2020. We call on the court to ensure that their decision reflects the gravity of the crime.”

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