Man injured in mass breakout from Safi detention centre given second chance

Mohammed Sellem was seriously injured during the escape, spending a month in hospital and undergoing two surgeries

The Safi detention centre where migrants are held for a maximum of 12 months
The Safi detention centre where migrants are held for a maximum of 12 months

A man who escaped from the detention in Safi has been handed a suspended sentence after a court saw how he had been badly injured in the process.

Mohammed Sellem was accused of escaping from lawful custody on 15 July.

Inspector Roderick Attard explained how the accused had been part of a larger group of detainees who escaped from Safi Barracks in July. The other escapees were charged and, later, jailed for 6 months. 

Sellem, who comes from Morocco, had been a detainee at the facility for 3 months before the break-out.

Lawyer Joe Brincat, appearing as legal aid counsel to the accused, informed magistrate Victor Axiaq that he was not contesting the validity of the arrest “because the law, as it stands, gives the police the right to arrest individuals even on contraventions.”

The accused, wheelchair-bound and with a heavily bandaged leg, pleaded guilty to the charge.

In its submissions on punishment, the prosecution argued that the day after the mass escape, 12 men were arraigned and eventually jailed. “They were later handed sentences of 6 months imprisonment. This is what the prosecution is aiming for. Six months should be the minimum,” said the inspector.

Lawyer Joe Brincat addressed the court, saying that he had not contested the validity of the arrest “for the simple reason that it has become a legal farce.” In the past it had not been a requirement for the court to convalidate the arrest, he said. This had then changed and now arrestable offences also included contraventions, said the lawyer.

He pointed to the piteous state of the accused and appealed to the court’s humanity.

“When the escape happened, Sellem got hurt... He spent a month in hospital. He has undergone two surgeries. I have heard that prison is now so overcrowded that some prisoners are sleeping on the floor.” The lawyer suggested a suspended sentence would better fit the circumstances.

Inspector Attard insisted on imprisonment, however. “The fact that you have a foreigner in detention who escapes…we must pass on a message…” he began but was cut off mid-sentence by Brincat. “We must be careful with sending messages,” interjected the lawyer.

Asked once more by the court what he was pleading, the accused reiterated his admission.

The Magistrate, having heard the parties discussing the punishment and considering the circumstances of the case, namely that the accused carried out a clear breach of the law by escaping from custody; whilst doing this, he appears to have suffered serious injuries, including broken bones which were making his life difficult, so much so that he is still being operated on and the fact that the court must balance the protection of society and the protection of the fundamental rights of the accused.

Finding the accused guilty by his own admission, the court, whilst condemning him to prison for 6 months, suspended the sentence for a period of 2 years.

“Take the right path,” urged the court, as it warned Sellem of the consequences of further trouble with the law. “The court has given you another chance.”

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