Council of Europe calls for prosecution of online racist comments

Report highlights case of Facebook user who was convicted in 2011 for using racist expressions online.

A report by the Council of Europe's Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has highlighted, inter alia, the lack of any co-ordinated attempt by the Maltese authorities to monitor online discussions for cases of incitement to hatred and violence, and recommends an "an independent body" empowered to impose sanctions in cases where racist language is used.

No actual examples were provided in the report published Monday, which was limited to the pre-December 2012 scenario. However, the CoE report alludes to anonymous interlocutors who allege that "most racist comments made online, particularly comments to news articles, go unpunished".

"ECRI notes that... there have been very few investigations opened for breach of the criminal law provisions in force against racism... Article 82A [which stipulates prison sentences for incitement to racial hatred] has been applied only once in 2008 in the context of a judgment against Norman Lowell, head of a political party called Imperium Europe [sic]".

The report also highlights the case of a Facebook user who was convicted in 2011 for breach of Article 6 of the Press Act, for having used racist expressions online. Two other reports are currently being investigated by the police.

For all this, ECRI criticises the fact that "there is no authority which monitors comments on newspaper websites made in reaction to their articles".

As a result, "it is not infrequent that comments to articles reporting on migrants, asylum seekers and refugees express racist views or use racist discourse".

The CoE report therefore recommends the adoption of legislation to "suppress public financing for those parties whose members are responsible for racist acts", and to set up new structures (or amend existing ones, such as the Broadcasting Authority) in order to clamp down on racist discourse in the media.

Also issued as an appendix to the report was an exhaustive, point-for-point reply by the Maltese government. In response to the above calls for legislative amendments, government issued a stark, one-liner reply to point out that "the House of Representatives determines its programmes and procedure without interference from outside bodies".

Elsewhere in its response to the CoE report - issued on March 20, 2013, three weeks after the election - the Malta government complained that many of the individual points had been based on intelligence acquired from 'anonymous sources'. Among the issues highlighted by the report are claimed incidents of racially motivated violence, exploitation of vulnerable persons by employers, and alleged cases of mistreatment associated with detention.

The findings at a glance

Exploitation: The CoE report confirms earlier findings that exploitation of foreign workers remains rife. Citing a study published by the General Workers' Union, the report notes that "many of these workers [i.e., refugees, persons granted humanitarian protection and immigrants] continue to be employed in the informal economy and are exploited by their employers, particularly in the construction sector.

The report cites allegations that individual migrant workers were paid only 25c for a full day's work, when they had been promised €25. In many cases, such workers are routinely denied access to the same conditions enjoyed by regular employees, and basic health and safety standards are often disregarded.

Government's reply was to point towards subsidiary legislation 420.07, which contains safeguards against exploitation. "It is therefore considered that this recommendation is already being implemented".

Racially-motivated violence: The report reiterates earlier findings that 29% of respondents to a survey (all immigrants from Africa) claimed that they had been victims of racially motivated assault. An estimated 50% or more of such cases are not reported to the police.

The response by government was to question the source of such complaints: the ECRI report cites the 2009 EU-MIDI report, which relies on dubious methodology, and on anonymous sources.

Discrimination in conferment of citizenship: ECRI pointed out that Malta's Citizenship Act leaves a large margin of discretion in decisions on naturalisation, and also there is no right to appeal.

"Under Article 10 of the Citizenship Act, a person seeking naturalisation 'may' be granted citizenship if the authorities are satisfied that she or he, amongst other requirements, is of a good character and would be a suitable citizen of Malta."

ECRI noted that these two criteria leave a very wide scope of appreciation to the authorities and are not based on objective and measurable criteria.

On its part government 'took note' of these observations. 

No discussion: ECRI also decried the fact that Malta has so far stopped short of discussing racism in Parliament, although the report acknowledges that discussion has taken place in other fora. Moreover, ECRI argues that a national action plan against racism and xenophobia was developed, but never been adopted or published by the authorities.

Government however rebuts such criticism: "In their interventions relating to migration and asylum, government officials already raise awareness in relation to the human rights dimension. Moreover, information is provided on the circumstances leading to the arrival of asylum seekers in Malta and other countries."

Typical example of most reports coming from Europe about Malta, statements without supporting evidence. I would also ask the CoE to clearly define what constitutes racist comments since over the last years, any comment or complaint a non colored, non Muslim raises is deemed as racist but the rule does not apply the other way round - this is being imposed upon us by the politically correct. It would be very good if the authorities publish a study showing the number of violent racist attacks against migrants in Malta vs. the number of violent attacks that happen between migrants themselves.
They now even want to muzzle anyone who expresses his or her opinion against the massive invasion of illegal immigrants in one's own country. Where is the freedom of speech so much vaunted by the Council of Europe?
So the Xenophiles are now trying to stop freedom of speech under the pretense of racism, as their is a fine border line between a racist and a genuine concern about your Country's future (which in a time not so long ago we used to declare them Patriots and make remembrance statues for them).What the ECRI should remember is that nobody can force his will down the throat of others (We used to call this Communism and Dictatorship), and all they would do is drive the discussion from above ground to underground which creates extremism. And that is what exactly happened before WW2, with the results recorded in history, but Europeans never learn will they.
This is brilliant. First the EU pushes these illegal immigrants down our throats and forces us, through Dublin 2 to keep them shackled to us for years and years, and then expects us, citizens of this Country not to protest. I, for one, want to follow the example of the British people who, in their great majority, want to opt out of Europe. We have lost all sense of proportion, we have lost all our sovereignty and all our rights as Maltese citizens to choose our paths by having these autocrats from Europe, cosy in their own seats of power, to dictate to us even how we think and what we say. I want Malta to regain its sovereignty gained at Independence and lost in 2004. I have no problem with honest real refugees, whatever their colour, but the rest who are refused refugee status, must be repatriated according to International Law. What is the difference between France and Malta, except for its size. If the French Interior Minister ordered the repatriation of the Kosovan family, we have as much right on exactly the same grounds. Unless of course there is really a two-tier system in Europe - the powerful and the small.
I have no problem with anyone being prosecuted for real actual racism. However, is this an attempt at curbing one's freedom of speech? Are we going to end up like in Austria, where Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was dragged to the courts for saying something which could be proved to be true, but was an uncomfortable truth to a particular religion? Will the laws if any, apply to all or will people of a particular religion be exempt? Note to Readers: I know that race and religion are two different things, but I also know that racism laws will be applied to unfavourable comments made about a particular religion. It's happened in the UK and other European countries and it will happen here. At the same time members of that religion can publicly threaten Westerners with death in front of the police and get away with it.
The "mediterranean boat people" crisis has contributed to highlight the multifaceted racist and xenophobia and other forms of discrimination that are not acceptable by EU standards. So far both main political parties have limited their ad hoc intervention to the opportunistic political exploitation of the influx of immigrants influx and have failed to adopt and implement any sound policy to address the no less complex issue of integration of legally established and naturalised migrants. Although so much remains to be done, it is encouraging that some sections of the media are starting to deal with this issue in a more objective and professional way.
The last time annonymous witnesses were used as solid evidence was during the time of the Holy Roman Inquisition some 300 years ago! Citizenship is the prerequisite of the Government elected by the Maltese and not by NGOs who are not elected and represent no one but themselves!
Salvino Giusti - This is an attempt at suffocating our freedom of expression and subjugating Malta and the Maltese into accepting with servility the brunt of the continuing Exodus from the African Continent. I smell the foul odour of a hidden European agenda intended to forestall an immigration crisis spreading like wildfire throughout major European cities.