Matthew Grech and website directors charged with promoting illegal gay conversion therapy

Grech was arraigned by summons before Magistrate Monica Vella together with the directors of PM news

Matthew Grech promoting ex-LGBT activities
Matthew Grech promoting ex-LGBT activities

Matthew Grech and the owners of a website that hosted a live stream during which Grech discussed his "conversion" from homosexuality through prayer, have been charged in court with advertising gay conversion therapy.

Grech was arraigned by summons before Magistrate Monica Vella, together with the directors of PM news, Mario Camilleri and Rita Bonnici on Friday afternoon.

A crowd of around 40 supporters, amongst them far-right ABBA party leader Ivan Grech Mintoff and former ballerina turned-religious pastor-cum-leader of local evangelical Christian organisation River of Love, Gordon Manche, jostled for space inside the courtroom, leading to the general public eventually being ordered out by the magistrate. Manché has, in the past, denied having practised “gay conversion therapy.”

Matthew Grech, who describes himself as a former gay man who “converted” to heterosexuality through his beliefs, had previously announced on Facebook that he was to be charged, together with the producers of PM News. ‘Public Media News’ is run by the other two defendants, Mario Camilleri and Rita Bonnici. It has featured commentary against Malta’s COVID rules, and given extensive coverage to anti-vaccine voices in the past.

The trio are accused of breaching the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act by advertising the bogus conversion therapy. If found guilty, they are facing potential prison sentences of up to 5 months, together with a fine of between €1000 and €5000.

Before the sitting could begin on Friday afternoon, magistrate Monica Vella ordered the crowd of supporters out of the courtroom, which they had crammed themselves into. Some voiced objections to the order but eventually, slowly, they filed out of the courtroom.

“This is a complicated case that only appears to be simple,” lawyer Emmy Bezzina submitted, once the court was in session. “They rushed the introduction of the law” 

Bezzina vociferously objected to his clients being charged together with Grech, arguing that they should not be held responsible for statements uttered by someone else. He asked for the cases to be separated. “We have 30 witnesses to testify,” he added.

Lawyer Cedric Mifsud, appearing for the parte civile together with lawyer Ian Barbara, pointed out that the defendants had all appeared on the same program. He argued that separating the cases would not help the course of justice at all, and would only result in proceedings being dragged out indefinitely.

“After this charge was issued, one of the new unelected MPs had made a 45-minute speech in parliament, saying that this law [against gay conversion therapy] is broken,” Bezzina replied.  “It just doesn’t make sense,” he said, “we don’t want it to be shelved indefinitely.” The lawyer is believed to have been referring to remarks made by Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg last month.

Magistrate Monica Vella observed that Grech had filed an application yesterday evening, asking that some defence witnesses testify via video link. Tabone, for the defendant, told the court that these witnesses’ testimony might not be required, depending on how the case developed.

For reasons which are not clear, Bezzina also demanded to be given the addresses of the prosecution's witnesses, accusing the inspector of not knowing broadcasting law and of prosecuting his clients for “ulterior motives.”

The video conferencing request was ultimately denied by the Magistrate. The Court told Bezzina that his witnesses would all be heard in one sitting.

The case was adjourned to June, in which the court will hear all of the defence’s witnesses.

Lawyers Frank Tabone, Joseph Bugeja and Janice Dalli are representing Grech in the proceedings. Lawyer Emmy Bezzina is defence counsel to Camilleri and Bonnici.

Lawyers Cedric Mifsud and Ian Barbara are representing the parte civile Silvan Agius, Christian Attard, and Cynthia Chircop.

Police inspector Roderick Attard is prosecuting.