[WATCH] Update 4 | Birdwatchers assaulted, hunters stage illegal protest outside Castille, FKNK says it ‘understands frustration’

Hunters protest, hurl insults at government and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, claim 'criminals are being treated better' • PN, AD, Institute of Journalists condemn violence after journalist and cameraman are attacked by hunters.

13 BirdLife birdwatchers were attacked by hunters at Buskett today, in an assault that came barely an hour after hunters held an illegal protest march in front of Castille and City Gate this afternoon in which they demonstrated against the government's decision to ban the autumn hunting season.

Informed sources said that the same group of hunters descended upon Buskett - a place popular with birdwatchers.

An elderly Maltese birdwatcher was surrounded by seven hunters and beaten up before having his camera taken away and destroyed, while another BirdLife birdwatcher was also assaulted by a group of hunters.

Hunters protesting against the government's hunting ban.

The birdwatchers have been injured, while others were escorted by police to their cars and are currently filing a report at the Rabat police station.

Riot police were on site to disperse the angry mob.

Earlier, some 150 disgruntled hunters held an illegal protest march in front of Castille and City Gate this afternoon, demonstrating against the government’s decision to ban the autumn hunting season. At the end of the protest, some of the hunters were heard that they were going to continue their protest at Floriana, is-Salib tal-Gholja, and Buskett.

The hunters – some of whom were seen wearing camouflage clothes, and FKNK shirts – gathered at City Gate before making their away along Republic Street. They then stopped in front of the Labour Party club and started hurling insults at the Labour Party and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Subsequently, the hunters – to the bemusement of many watching tourists – continued their protest in front of Castille, again shouting insults at the government and the prime minister. At this point, some of the demonstrators were heard saying “migrants, and criminal were being treated better than hunters.”

Moreover, they were also protesting that the majority of hunters should not be castigated for the “small minority” who broke the law.

The protestors were then ordered to disperse by police and Rapid Intervention Unit officials because the protest was illegal and not covered by a police permit.

Despite being ordered to disperse, the hunters again walked to City Gate where they were heard chanting further insults at the government and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Earlier some hunters are said to have pushed and kicked a Times journalist and cameraman – which violence condemned by the Nationalist Party, Alternattiva Demokratika and the Institute of Journalists.

Condemnation from FKNK

At 9:45pm, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) disassociated itself from the protest but said that government's decision to close the hunting season had been "hasty and incorrect and in all probability was taken as a result of a false report made by a local journalist, also yesterday."

"The FKNK condems any violent actions, as reported, that may have occurred as a consequence of the protest. Notwithstanding this, the FKNK understands the Maltese hunters’ frustration at being prevented from practicing their hunting passions when over 7 million other hunters in Europe, also EU citizens, can freely do so at present."

Again the hunting lobby said it would consider taking legal action from Monday in protest at the closure of the hunting season.

Civil society reaction

In a statement, AD chairperson Arnold Cassola condemned the violence and insisted that there is “absolutely no room for any type of violence in a civilised society.”

"Alternattiva Demokratika strongly condemns the violence against a Times journalist and photographer today during a protest by hunters. AD shows its solidarity with the journalist and news photographer who were victims of this senseless violence."

"Prime Minister Muscat should reflect on his methods of promising everything to everyone in order to get their votes.  The violence today is also due to the empty promises of those politicians who resort to all sorts of double speak to gain votes".

The PN said that the protests of the day were the result of "promises Muscat mad eto win votes and that now have resulted to be empty".

While condemning the "unacceptable attacks," the Institute of Journalists called on the authorities to investigate the incidents, and insisted that anyone responsible should be charged in court.

Even the smaller hunters' organisation Kaccaturi San Ubertu was quick to condemn the "thuggery and abusive behaviour" of what it termed "an unofficial, illegal and abusive protest by an undesirable small sector of the hunting community."

The group disassociated itself from the action and expressed solidarity wiht the birdwatchers and their families savagely attacked, and call on the authorities to investigate those responsible for this despicable act.

But the KSU also called on the government to revise licensing procedures, raise penalties and amend regulations "to ensure those holding a hunting license are worthy of it" in reaction to the incidents of the day. "Today’s incidents certainly depict an aspect of the hunting community that is not to be tolerated and only serves to tarnish the law abiding majority of hunters that share an appreciation of government’s efforts to better hunting in Malta."

Government ban

The protest follows the government’s decision to close the autumn hunting season until October 10 after the shooting of White Storks by a poacher.

The hunting ban was heavily attacked and opposed by hunters' and their representatives alike. Hunters' lobby FKNK suspended its participation in the Ornis Committee, the body recommending the dates for the opening of hunting seasons, in protest at what it said was the government's "discriminatory action" to close down the hunting season.

Moreover, hunters association Kaccaturi San Ubertu (KSU) said it considered collective punishment as a counterproductive measure that reflects badly on Government’s immense efforts to regulate hunting. Dubbing the measures as “draconian,” KSU also said that the small minority undermining hunting should not castigate the majority that are responsible for their actions.