Two men, woman accused of assaulting police in Marsa

Two men and a woman have been remanded in custody on charges of resisting and threatening police officers who stopped their van in Marsa

Inspector Elliott Magro arraigned Michael Wubshet Bekele, 29, Afewerki Teklesembet Yohannes, 34 from Ethiopia and Eritrea respectively together with Helen Taddese, 25 from Eritrea. before magistrate Joseph Mifsud this morning.

Magro explained how an RIU patrol in Marsa yesterday had spotted a small van with three persons in the front seats. “One was sitting on top of the other in the passenger seat.”

Police flagged down the vehicle telling the driver to pull over but it failed to stop. A Police car blocked its path further up the road.

Afewerki, the driver, emerged and pushed the police officer, before punching him in the face. The other two emerged from the van and started shouting at and pushing the officers.

The driver was breathalysed and found to be over the drink-driving limit, Magro said.

Taddese, who lives in Rome and carries an Italian passport, was arraigned first. She was accused of insulting and threatening two police officers, failing to comply with legitimate police orders, threatening public servants and breaching the peace.

“Thanks to Schengen, the police have no way of knowing how long she has been in Malta,” Inspector Magro commented.

Taddese initially pleaded guilty, with lawyer Francine Abela explaining that she had come to Malta for a two-week holiday.

“I am going to extend her holiday to three months. I don't joke around where assaults on police are concerned.”

The woman then changed her plea to one of not guilty and requested bail. The prosecution objected, to this, arguing that she had only told police that she was staying “somewhere in Marsa”.

“She has no ties to Malta and doesn't know the names of the people she was in the van with, or where she lives.”

“Am I going to give bail to someone who attacked police as soon as she arrived in Malta?” remarked the magistrate.

Despite Abela's protestations that the woman was still presumed innocent, the court remanded the woman in custody.

Two other men, Ethiopian Michael Wubshet Bekele ,29, and Teklesembet Yohannes Afewerki, 34, from Eritrea also pleaded not guilty to violently resisting, threatening officers, slightly injuring them and other offences against public order.

Afewerki alone was charged with driving the van whilst over the drink-driving limit, without insurance, or a road licence. Bekele was charged with breaching bail conditions imposed for a previous offence in April.

The court refused bail to all three.

“You know my policy,” said the magistrate. “I protect the police and the forces of order. If the courts aren't going to protect them, the country will be in a difficult situation. When you don't have the police protecting you, the people will take the law into their own hands. Public order is sacred.”

Lawyer Jason Grima, appearing for Bekele, retorted that his client was objecting to the charges and was saying that the situation was, in fact, the reverse.

“He was the passenger and is claiming that he was being beaten by the police. I enjoy hearing the court protect the police but people must be protected too.” Bekele opened his shirt to show a bandaged shoulder and wrist.

Inspector Magro added that the man had also bitten a police officer and that that injury had been medically certified. The court appointed a medical expert to examine the accused's wounds.

Magistrate Mifsud clarified that the use of reasonable force is permitted during arrests. “You aren't boy scouts,” he told the officer.

News reports had caused the public to get alarmed, the magistrate claimed. “Then some people start spouting patriotic nonsense and tension is created,” he said, adding that police play a vital role in maintaining social order.

It was still too early to assess who was aggressive towards whom, insisted Grima.

The accused had always attended sittings in his other case and scrupulously followed his bail conditions. There was no fear of absconding or approaching witnesses or him not turning up for court, submitted the lawyer.

The court denied bail, saying it was not deciding on guilt at this stage.