Lawyer slams justice system after bail request filed two days ago only reaches court on Thursday

Lawyer representing seven Syrian men accused of terrorism-related offences slams the criminal justice system after learning that a bail request he had filed two days ago had only reached the court today

File photo
File photo

Lawyer Jose Herrera, who is representing seven Syrian men accused of terrorism-related offences has slammed the criminal justice system after learning that a bail request he had filed two days ago had only reached the court today.

Several witnesses testified as the compilation of evidence against Ajil Al Muhsen (21), Adnan Maashi (21), Yazan Abduklaziz (26), Ahmed Kadas (25), Khalil Al Mahmoud (21), Ahmed Ahmed (27), and Mohammed Mohammed (24), all of whom are from Syria, continued before Magistrate Nadine Lia on Thursday.

Superintendent tells court original interpreters replaced due to “severe reservations”

At the start of the sitting, defence lawyer Alex Scerri Herrera objected to the replacement of the two interpreters who had previously been engaged to assist the defendants in the proceedings. He told the court that the defendants were “unable to understand” their new interpreter and had requested an Arabic interpreter who spoke a Syrian dialect. They had communicated this to the lawyer in broken Maltese, he said, when asked by the court how this information had been conveyed to him.

Scerri Herrera replied that he was “perplexed” by the prosecution’s objections to the two interpreters who were established figures in the courts.

Prosecutor Antoine Agius Bonnici said he could not understand the point of the defence’s objection about the new interpreter not speaking the defendant’s regional dialect, as the same issue was going to arise with any interpreter not from their region. Furthermore, the issue was being raised at a late stage, Agius Bonnici said.

Taking the witness stand, Superintendent George Cremona, who leads the police’s Counter Terrorism Unit, told the court that the court officials had been replaced because the police had “severe reservations” about the two interpreters who, he said, had been requested by the defendants.

Deciding on the issue, Magistrate Lia noted that the defence had not objected to the work carried out by the current interpreter to date or to the written translations which the interpreter had exhibited. The magistrate said she had also observed the easy communication between the defendants and the new interpreter in the courtroom, ruling that she saw no valid reason to replace the new interpreter or substitute her with the two particular individuals identified by the defence.

Officers describe coordinated police raids resulting in the arrests

Superintendent Cremona proceeded to give the court a brief timeline of the investigation and subsequent arrests of the seven individuals in the dock.

Police Inspector Joseph Sammut from the Immigration section, took the stand next, followed by Inspector Hubert Gerada, also from Immigration and subsequently Inspector Kurt Farrugia from the police force’s Europol National Unit, to testify about the coordinated police raids on residences in Ħamrun, Marsa, Birkirkara and Pieta.

The raids all took place at 4am on April 29, on the strength of warrants issued by the Court of Magistrates. A police sergeant and a constable also gave the court their accounts of the raids.

At one of the addresses, after the police had knocked on the door, officers had heard a voice asking who was there. No reply was forthcoming and the sound of running footsteps were heard after the police identified themselves.

After the police broke down the door, they found four men, two women and four young children inside. One of the men was found to have irregular immigration status and was transferred to a detention centre.

Another group of men were found inside another one of the raided apartments, in Ħamrun. They were given a letter explaining their rights in Arabic. The residence was searched and several communications equipment, cash, SIM cards and documents in Arabic were seized by the police.

Another one of the raids targeted a flat in Birkirkara. Five people were found to be inside, although not all of them were charged. Three of them were found to have immigration documents issued in Greece and were later repatriated. Two had Maltese immigration papers.

Several mobile phones and other electronics were seized during the raids, together with €8,310 in cash, was recovered from one of the premises raided in Ħamrun.

An Isuzu Elf and Ford Transit connected to the defendants were also searched.

The court heard how in every raid, the occupants of the premises were spoken to by the police in Maltese and then played an audio recording explaining their rights in Arabic.

Police dogs also assisted in the searches, the court was told.

The suspects were informed that they were being arrested for allegedly sharing terrorism-related material on social media.

All defendants, bar one, benefit from subsidiary protection

After the police officers finished testifying about the raids, lawyer Sara Ezabe from the International Protection Agency took the stand to testify about the defendant’s humanitarian status. All of them enjoyed subsidiary protection, except one, whose application was still being verified, she said.

Ezabe explained that subsidiary protection is given to applicants because of a situation in their home country, relating to risk of torture, indiscriminate violence or gender-related violence. Applicants from Syria were usually granted subsidiary protection on the grounds of being at risk of general indiscriminate violence if returned.

Subsidiary protection is not the same as refugee status, explained the lawyer. The latter requires risks or threats on more personal grounds such as political opinion or belonging to a particular social group. In order to be given refugee status, applicants had to prove they would be subjected to individual persecution on the grounds of politics or ethnic background in their country of origin, she said.

Cross-examined by Herrera about how applicants are vetted, the witness replied that IPA followed legal guidelines, but ultimately had to rely on information provided by the applicants, who often did not have official identification documents.


If the applicant qualified for protection but was flagged by other sources, like Interpol, as having had been convicted of a crime, that person could be excluded from humanitarian protection, Ezabe explained.

No particular risks or red flags had emerged from their files, said the witness in reply to another question from the defence.

“If National security services inform us of a particular risk the individuals concerned are excluded on the grounds of security,” said the witness, explaining that the agency’s role is to check whether the applicants faced risks in their country of origin.

After hearing witnesses, the defence made submissions. Herrera asked the court to appoint an expert in Middle Eastern Anthropology and suggested Ranier Fsadni by name. The court pointed out that the law stipulated that such requests must be made in writing.

The lawyer explained that he was making this request because previous witnesses had “given opinions and viewpoints on organisations in certain countries, as well as indicators and symbols used.

He asked that the expert be asked to report on whether the exhibited items were synonymous with criminal organisations or “simply a part of Middle Eastern culture.”

Replying to the lawyer, Agius Bonnici said that an expert had already been appointed during the magisterial inquiry and would be giving his opinion on the exhibits and the extractions from the seized devices.

Defence requests bail

Herrera complained to the court after he was informed that a bail request filed two days ago had only arrived in court today, together with the acts of the case.

The lawyer dictated a note, in which he complained that he had followed the normal practice and filed a bail request two days ago. The sending of the acts to the AG was depriving the defendants of the right to have a court overseeing their arrest, Herrera argued.

He insisted that persons detained under arrest must be brought to court every 15 days at least so that the legality of their continued arrest could be examined. “This right is being denied to the defendants at this stage,” he said.

Agius Bonnici also dictated a note by way of reply, explaining that “criminal procedure is regulated, not by practices, but by the Criminal Code. That code stipulates a period of one month in which the AG is to send the acts back to the Court of Magistrates, no later than a month after receiving them. In this case, the AG did not breach any law, but rather followed the provisions of the Criminal Code and disagrees with the defence’s claims.”

The law contemplated a special procedure where during the time when the acts are being examined by the AG, the defence must file any request it wished to make, to the Criminal Court, Agius Bonnici pointed out.

Herrera submitted that this was “totally irrelevant.”  “It is a basic competence of the compiling court to supervise the continued arrest of the defendants and that the defence had a right to ask that court to consider bail requests after the witnesses indicated…are heard.”

Magistrate Lia informed the parties that she was unable to decree on bail as the application had not yet arrived and therefore, she had only heard oral submissions at this point. Herrera slammed the system which he said “is not working.”

The case will continue in July.