Man handed suspended sentence for Facebook comment saying Robert and Karol Aquilina ‘deserve the gallows’

A man has been handed a suspended sentence after he was charged in court over an online comment in which he said that brothers Karol and Robert Aquilina 'deserve the gallows'

Karol Aquilina (left) and Robert Aquilina (right)
Karol Aquilina (left) and Robert Aquilina (right)

A man has been handed a suspended sentence after he was charged in court over an online comment in which he said that brothers Karol and Robert Aquilina “deserve the gallows”.

Karol Aquilina is a PN MP and Robert Aquilina is president of Rule of Law NGO Repubblika.

56-year-old Martin Galea of Gzira appeared before magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit on Tuesday morning, accused of misuse of electronic telecommunications equipment and inciting politically-motivated violence.

Inspector Joseph Busuttil, prosecuting, explained to the court that he had previously charged a person with using hate speech against the Aquilinas and that Galea had written his comment in question on Facebook under a post featuring a TVM report on that arraignment.

Galea pleaded guilty to the charges.

Lawyer Ezekiel Psaila argued that the phrase “il-forka haqqhom” (they deserve the gallows) was colloquial. “Let’s not trivialise the matter,” interrupted parte civile lawyer Therese Commodini Cachia. Psaila insisted that Galea “should not be made the sacrificial lamb.”

The court disagreed, however. “This is a question of basic education for us Maltese. When are we going to start constructive criticism on social media? I know this because the courts receive this type of criticism every day. It’s not right.”

Inspector Busuttil also informed the court that the accused had apologised during his statement. Psaila told the court that the accused had told him that he “hadn’t even read the story” before posting his comment. He argued that the incident had to be taken into perspectiive and that the law applied equally to all.

“I want to pass on the message to the public that we should be constructive and not shoot our mouths off randomly. Because this is ignorance,” said the court.

Commodini Cachia said that there have been many judgments on similar cases, adding that the Aquilina brothers wished to testify to give context.

Psaila objected. “An early guilty plea is an early guilty plea.” 

The prosecuting inspector agreed, submitting that normally this would not be permitted because of the fact that the accused had admitted the charges

An argument broke out on this point between Robert Aquilina and the Inspector after Aquilina said words to the effect that he “would be informing the Commissioner of Police of the inspector’s behaviour.”

Busuttil cried foul to the court, telling the magistrate that Robert Aquilina was threatening him that there “would be consequences”. 

Aquilina explained that he meant that he would be informing the Commissioner of Police that the inspector was not giving him the protection he needed and was “almost defending the accused.”

“I am requesting the protection of the court,” continued the inspector. “He is threatening me with reporting me to the Commissioner of Police.”

Magistrate Stafrace Zammit then called the parties to approach the bench where the case was discussed, mostly out of earshot of the press.

Busuttil was heard to argue that the parte civile had no right to testify if there is an admission. “We do this in murder cases too,” he said.

The issue appeared to be settled after several minutes of discussion, and the parties returned to their places. Busuttil informed the court that the comment was still online.

Magistrate Stafrace Zammit ordered the accused to remove it straight away. “I don’t know where it is; it’s been months," he replied. Commodini Cachia told the court she would help the man remove it.

Asked by the court, the accused confirmed his guilty plea.

In view of his admission of guilt, the magistrate proceeded to convict Galea of the charges and sentenced him to seven months in jail, suspended for 18 months. He was also ordered to keep the peace with the Aquilina brothers and their families for one year or pay a €500 penalty.