Azzopardi says government attack on critics ‘hallmark of totalitarian regimes’

Nationalist MP who signed Repubblika’s criminal complaint against Maltese government says Abela should not single him out for criticism

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi
Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi

Shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi has hit out at “bullying tactics” by Prime Minister Robert Abela, after the Nationalist MP filed a criminal complaint against him and 11 army officers accused of causing the death of migrants left stranded at sea, on behalf of the civil society NGO Repubblika.

Azzopardi was one of three lawyers who signed criminal complaints filed by  Repubblika against the Prime Minister, the Commander of the AFM and others, accusing them of the wilful homicide of 12 migrants who died of thirst in Maltese waters and whose boat was allegedly sabotaged by the AFM.

“I am a lawyer. I do not comment about my professional work. Nowhere in the democratic world does a governing party, or worse, the Prime Minister, issue attacks against the lawyer of a client filing an action against him or his government. This is only done to intimidate and is the hallmark of totalitarian regimes. In the words of Dante: ‘non ragionam di lor, ma guarda e passa’,” the MP said.

“What I know is that today, days after the incident, the PM continues to dodge answering questions about the deaths,” Azzopardi said.

Prime Minister Robert Abela yesterday held a press conference, together with his entire Cabinet, where he singled out Azzopardi as being responsible for demoralising the AFM at a delicate moment as Malta fights against COVID-19. Abela also called for “love and respect towards our migrant brothers and sisters” while doubling-down on his government’s hardline stance to close ports to the rescue of asylum seekers.

Civil society NGO Repubblika said they were being portrayed as “traitors” for wanting to get to the bottom of the death of a number of stranded migrants. Giving “an account of the facts”, Repubblika president Vicki Ann Cremona said the government had been twisting facts and propelling a narrative that those seeking justice were working “with the enemy”.

“The accusation being made against us is that we are traitors and working for the 'enemy'. Our lawyers are being verbally attacked simply for assisting us. We love our country and believe that justice should rule,” she said.    

Cremona said that the NGO’s only interest was to ensure that responsibility was shouldered for the death of migrants at sea.  Asked whether they felt those concerned should step down, as is normally the practice when a criminal investigation is launched, Repubblika member Manuel Delia told The Times that that is for the involved parties to consider.  The civil society groups’ main interest, he said, was for justice to be done.