Updated | Busuttil says police chief, home affairs minister must resign • Ministry says PN leader is ‘threat to democracy’

Opposition leader says PN administration would instruct people to ignore law requiring registration of news websites, calls on police commissioner and home affairs minister Carmelo Abela to resign after MaltaToday report on political intervention in drug prosecution

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil is becoming “a serious threat to democracy” after his “unprecedented” attacks on the police force and the police commissioner, the home affairs ministry said today.

The ministry’s remarks were made after Busuttil earlier called on police chief Lawrence Cutajar and home affairs minister Carmelo Abela to resign after it was revealed that two Gozitans who were arrested on drug trafficking charges changed their police statement after political intervention.

MaltaToday revealed that after a meeting between the fathers of the two Gozitans and two senior government politicians, the two youths were given the opportunity to expunge a police statement in which they admitted they had been trafficking drugs. The youths subsequently revised their statements, completely contradicting their original declarations, and as a result, the police did not proceed with their prosecution.

An inquiry has since been ordered.

“Is this right? People are arrested on drug charges, admit to doing so, and then after the intervention of two politicians nothing happens … We [the PN] are calling on the police commissioner to resign immediately. If you are not ready to investigate crimes, then you should leave today,” Busuttil told party faithful in Birkirkara.

During his speech, the Opposition leader, who this this week pledged that he would sack police chief Lawrence Cutajar, launched a scathing attack on the police commissioner, describing him as a “puppet in the hands of the government”, claiming that he was only there to cover up for the prime minister and the government, and pledging that if elected as prime minister, he would sack Cutajar “without notice”.

The PN leader also lambasted home affairs Carmelo Abela, claiming that under his responsibility the police was in its worst state since the 1980s, and that he should too, submit his resignation.

Busuttil also argued that the recent in bombs as well as the “rampant” organised crime” was as a result of the inefficacy of the police force, and its focus on defending Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“People no longer feel safe anymore, and we have a commissioner who is more interested in defending Joseph Muscat, [OPM chief of staff] Keith Schembri and [minister] Konrad Mizzi,” the PN leader said while again calling for a police investigation into the Panama Papers scandal.

But in a statement, the home affairs ministry turned the tables on Busuttil, arguing that the PN leader’s “attacks on the police force were dangerous for democracy.”

“The Opposition leader is continuing with his indiscriminate attacks on the country’s institutions, which attacks are becoming dangerous and which are not showing any trust in the ability of the police force … Once again, Busuttil resorted to a hysterical speech symptomatic of a desperate politician,” the ministry said.

On its part, the Labour Party accused Simon Busuttil of using the car bombing to try and stir up fear.

PN would instruct people to ignore new press law- Busuttil

Turning his attention on the government’s proposed reform of the press law, Busuttil said that if the law requiring news websites to be registered in a media register was enacted, the Nationalist Party would implore people to ignore it.

“The Opposition will resist this proposed law in parliament, but if it is enacted, then I am making it clear that the Opposition will give clear instructions for people to ignore the law. A future PN government would also remove this law as it seeks to stifle freedom of expression,” he said.

Under the current Press Act, editors and publishers and publishers of newspapers must register their personal details and newspaper titles with the Registrar at the Department of Information. The new law also makes it mandatory to register editors of newspapers, broadcasters and websites, and publishers of newspapers, under pain of a €1,000 fine.

“If you comment online the government wants you to have a register under pain of a €1,000 fine. This law will curtail freedom of speech, and as a result of this law, people would be impeded from speaking out,” he said.

The PN leader said the party had always been committed to freedom of expression and three years ago, it had filed a private member’s bill to enshrine the right to use the internet in the Constitution, only for the government to ignore it.

However, in a statement, the justice ministry said Busuttil was alone in his “extremism and in his insistence on saying ‘no’ to everything and everyone.”  Accusing the Opposition leader of “playing to the gallery” in his criticism of a proposed new media law, the justice ministry said Busuttil was taking a destructive attitude instead of making his own proposals to improve things.

“Having failed to lift a finger to outlaw criminal libel in the past 25 years, now that it is to be repealed the Opposition leader is to vote against it anyway,” the ministry said in a statement.