[WATCH] Ringleaders of Hal Far open centre riot plead not guilty, denied bail

16 migrants involved in the Sunday riot were sentenced to six weeks in jail while 64 who pleaded not guilty, including the ringleaders, were all denied bail  •  A final group of migrants will be arraigned tomorrow

Migrants who took part in Sunday's violent riot at the Hal Far open centre are being charged in court
Migrants who took part in Sunday's violent riot at the Hal Far open centre are being charged in court
Migrants involved in Hal Far riot taken to court

Eight migrants accused of being the ringleaders in the Hal Far open centre riot on Sunday pleaded not guilty to related charges. Bail was denied in view of the grave nature of the crimes with which the men were being charged and their lack of ties to Malta.

Around 300 men were arrested on Monday morning following the riot that resulted in a police car and three other open centre employee vehicles being set on fire, and a police officer suffering slight injuries. 

The eight men who have been accused of being the ringleaders — Al Hassin Issa Al Amin, 21, from Chad, Zakria Mohammed, 19, from Central African Republic, Yusef Mutasin from Sudan, Ibrahim Ali, 20, from Sudan, Hammad Abubaida, 22, from Sudan, Ibrahim Bahar from Sudan, Oboke Cletus Chikadibia, 20, from Nigeria and a 16-year-old from Chad — were accused of carrying out the acts of violence during the riot.

Senior inspector Melvyn Camilleri charged them with violently resisting the police, slightly injuring one officer, forming part of an illegal assembly, failing to disperse when ordered to, conspiracy to commit a crime punishable with imprisonment, arson, voluntary damage, disturbing the repose of persons during the night time, breaching the peace, disobeying legitimate orders, threatening a number of public officers, throwing stones and hard objects. A protection order was requested in favour of three police officers.

The arraignment of the migrants involved in the riot took place in four groups, with one further group to be arraigned tomorrow. The ringleaders and men accused of assaulting police officers were arraigned separately.

Migrants have been arriving to court in groups of around 30, accompanied by a heavy contingent of police officers
Migrants have been arriving to court in groups of around 30, accompanied by a heavy contingent of police officers

In the first group, 14 migrants were sentenced to six weeks detention after they pleaded guilty to disobeying lawful orders and willfully disturbing the public good order and peace.

The other six of the first group who were arraigned pleaded not guilty but were denied bail.

Handcuffed to each other in threes, the first group sat in Hall 22 of the law courts waiting for interpreters to be found and appointed.

When proceedings finally began at around 1:45pm, Inspectors Roderick Attard, Eman Hayman and Oriana Spiteri read out the charges against the first tranche of 20 migrants. These individuals, from Somalia, Senegal, Guinea, Gambia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, entered their pleas to charges of disobeying lawful orders and “wilfully disturbing the public good order and peace.”

14 entered guilty pleas, the other six pleaded not guilty and requested bail. This was objected to by the prosecution, which said it feared further crimes would be committed.

Defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace argued that the offences with which the accused were being charged were contraventions.

The court, in view of the circumstances which led to the arraignment and the fact that the accused had no fixed address or ties to Malta, denied bail.

The 14 who pleaded guilty were sentenced to six weeks detention.

A van, one of five vehicles burnt during the riot
A van, one of five vehicles burnt during the riot
Police in riot gear eventually moved into the open centre several hours after the situation had calmed down
Police in riot gear eventually moved into the open centre several hours after the situation had calmed down

The second group of men numbered 24 individuals in total, all from Sudan and were arraigned at around 3pm on the same charges as the first group. 22 of them pleaded not guilty. Two men admitted to the charges.

Their ages ranged from 15 to 38.

The two who pleaded guilty were given sentences of six weeks imprisonment. The court denied bail to the rest, recommending that the five under-18s be held at the Young Offenders Unit (YOURS) at the request of the defence.

After judgment was handed down, two men wanted to change their plea to a guilty plea but were instructed to tell it to the magistrate assigned their compilation of evidence. Their time in preventive custody would be deducted from their eventual sentence.

A third group of 25 men, all from Sudan, were arraigned at 4pm on identical charges to the previous two groups. All 25 pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were also denied bail, the court giving the same reasons as in the previous arraignments.

Three men resident at the Hal Far open centre were charged separately since they were accused of assaulting two police officers and a support worker.

The men are Abdalla Muhammed Abdalla, 20, from Chad, a 16-year-old from Sudan, and a 17-year-old from Nigeria. The names of the minors cannot be mentioned by court order.

The three were prevented from entering the open centre on Sunday night after returning back drunk. They caused mayhem and police had to be called in.

The incident led to the violent riot that ended up with five cars being burnt, stones pelted at support workers and offices ransacked.

The three were the first to be charged in court on Tuesday in front of Magistrate Doreen Clarke. 

The migrants were being taken to court in groups of around 30, amid heavy police presence.

The three men pleaded not guilty to the charges. The court remanded them in custody.

Inspector Melvyn Camilleri prosecuted and legal aid lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace appeared for the three men.

Bail was requested but opposed by the prosecution as the men had just arrived in Malta.

Camilleri argued they had no address other than the open centre. There is no structure that can cater for them, he said.

The defence insisted that in the same way they were found and arraigned, they can be found again.

“The centre today is now a completely open centre, because the office is not functioning, not even their records can be found,” the inspector responded.

The court denied bail, saying they could not provide the required guarantees at law.

 

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