Delia: Abela cannot bully Opposition in discharge of duties

PN leader gets right of reply after Prime Minister uses TVM prime-time to hit out at Repubblika criminal complaint on migrant deaths at sea

Opposition leader Adrian Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia

The Nationalist Party has hit out Prime Minister Robert Abela’s primetime address on the national broadcaster on Friday, accusing him of lying and reacting emotively to an activists’ criminal complaint accusing the government of causing the death of migrants at sea.

In a right of reply aired on PBS, Opposition leader Adrian Delia declared that his party was unswervingly in favour of saving lives at sea, referring to the PM’s reaction to the complaint filed by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi for civil society group Repubblika accusing the PM, AFM commander Jeffrey Curmi and maritime squadron officers of causing the deaths of migrants returned to Libya after first entering the Maltese search and rescue area.

“If we don’t do this, we cannot call ourselves human beings. There can be no compromise on this principle. We expect likewise from the government.”

But Delia said the Opposition would not be intimidated or bullied in the discharge of its duties, after saying Abela deliberately referred to Azzopardi’s services as a lawyer for Repubblika, as doing the Opposition’s bidding.

“Abela stated four times that this report was made in the name of the Opposition. This is a bare-faced lie. Azzopardi’s duties were that of a professional lawyer, and not in the service of the PN. As a lawyer, Abela knows this well. He knows that in a democratic society it is the duty of the police to independently act upon any report it receives, from whoever it is, and that the PM of such country allows due process to take place without airing it on national television.

“Certainly, we cannot expect attacks on lawyers acting on their clients’ behalf. This only happens in dictatorships, and the PM was irresponsible in his actions. Many MPs are lawyers who give service to various clients. On this point, the PN welcomes talks on any guidelines for MPs who are lawyers and the limits of their practice.”

Delia accused Abela of turning a sensitive matter into a partisan affair. “There are serious accusations of people dying at sea, and this merits an investigation, not airing a press conference 24 hours later.”

Azzopardi yesterday also hit out at “bullying tactics” by Abela. “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,” the MP said.

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. “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,” Repubblika president Vicki Ann Cremona said.

The criminologist Saviour Formosa yesterday insisted that claims such as those alleged by the NGO Alarm Phone to the New York Times, of AFM officials sabotaging a migrant boat, had to be investigated with haste “to ensure that front-liners who are risking their lives on a daily basis are ensured closure and that front-liners deserve a fair hearing.”

Formosa said such claims to the Police and the Courts had to be “backed by solid evidence and veer away from sensationalism and the urge to be in the spotlight, such that results of requests would have the adverse effect.”

“The need for a comprehensive approach towards migration should be Europe-wide and it is there that such claims should be targeted as the recent years and even more during the past days showed that the EU response has failed its own states…

“Seeking to incarcerate front-liners only aids the criminal domain, not mitigate its escalation,” Prof. Formosa said.