Magistrate’s concern over foreign conflicts ‘imported’ to Malta

Magistrate warns against foreign conflicts being imported to Malta as Libyan is charged with stabbing countryman

Magistrate Joseph Mifsud
Magistrate Joseph Mifsud

A magistrate has expressed concern at the risk of foreign conflicts being “imported” to Malta after a Libyan man was arraigned in connection with a stabbing incident in Swieqi.

Wadea Al Maghrbi, 25, from Libya, now living in St Julian’s was charged with the attempted grievous bodily harm of Zouhir Elfezqa, slightly injuring the man with a sharp and pointed instrument, illegally arresting Elfezqa, threatening him with death, possession of arms proper during the commission of a crime, carrying a knife in public without a licence and breaching the conditions of a previous conditional discharge.

Inspector Elton Taliana, explained that on the 30 January, the accused had gone to sleep at a friend’s house. Two Libyan men, who had been sharing the flat with his friend had attacked him after finding out that he was a Gaddafi supporter. A fight ensued, in which knives were employed.

A dreadlocked and bearded Al Maghrbi appeared to be in considerable pain as he was pushed into the courtroom on a wheelchair, his breathing laboured. His lawyer, Gianluca Caruana Curran, informed the court that his client should be hospitalised, but Inspector Taliana explained that the hospital had already discharged the accused as they had no reason to keep him in hospital.

Maghrbi, who told the court that he was a refugee, pleaded not guilty to the charges. The defence requested bail for the man.

But Inspector Taliana opposed the request arguing that Al Maghrbi had been the aggressor in this case. He, together with another person who had already been charged, had gone to attack a third person, tooled-up for a fight.

There was an eyewitness who was yet to testify in these proceedings and this meant that there was a serious risk of tampering of evidence, said the inspector, adding that the witness was already terrified that “the others” were going to attack him.

“It appears that because he was a supporter of the previous government, this led to conflict with the others. It also led to fears that they would seek him out,” explained Taliana.

Inspector James Grech, also prosecuting, added that the group had already approached a witness in an effort to intimidate him into non-cooperation with the police. The knife had been found on the person of the accused’s friend.

Last April, Al Maghrbi had been handed a conditional discharge as a result of a fight between him and his boss in the kitchen of a popular Indian restaurant. The accused had assaulted his boss, who required hospitalisation as a result.

“This is an untrustworthy person. The court had already found him guilty of identical charges – possession of a knife, affray and he had breached the conditions of his previous conditional discharge,” argued Taliana.

The defence tried to play down the importance of the man’s previous conviction, Caruana Curran arguing that the man had been conditionally discharged, emphasising that he was discharged. “This type of punishments are handed down...” began the lawyer, but the magistrate interrupted him. “They are handed down to give persons a window of opportunity to reform themselves.”

Caruana Curran argued that the charges were not serious and that his client was denying all the allegations. “He had not gone there to fight, he had gone there to sleep,” said the lawyer.

Additionally, prison was the worst place to send a person who had just come out of the ITU, in view of the recent swine flu outbreak.

But magistrate Joe Mifsud, presiding, made it clear that he was not going to permit the importation into Malta of conflicts from abroad. Whilst Malta should carry on giving all necessary protection to those fleeing these areas, those fleeing should not bring their conflicts with them and create unnecessary alarm, said the magistrate. “We use the rule of law here, not that of the jungle. If there is a disagreement, they should settle it civilly, not with knives.”

He denied bail, ordering the man be seen by a doctor before being taken to prison.