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Police union chief leaves secret Labour online group

Police Inspector Sandro Camilleri

The head of the GWU’s police union, inspector Sandro Camilleri, has left secret Labour Facebook group ‘Laburisti sal-Mewt’ (Labourites until we die) after The Shift News investigation revealed his membership in one of the largest of the pro-Muscat online groups, having 16,400 members.

The Shift News revealed that Camilleri has been a member of the group since June 2017. A six-month investigation on these groups revealed their function in peddling hate, setting up targets and spreading government propaganda.

Camilleri was regularly tagged in posts in this group, which also served to prop up his statements and rally members to support his views.

The Police Act (Chapter 164, 2nd Schedule, Article 24, 6e) states that police officers should ensure impartiality. It addresses the issue of discipline with regards to “discreditable conduct” by police who:

“[D]o not abstain from any political activity or canvassing or from any activity which is likely to interfere with the loyal and impartial discharge of his duties, or which is likely to give rise to the impression among members of the public that it may so interfere”.

The Sunday Times of Malta reported Camilleri saying, “hateful and offensive comments on social media have become intolerable and all too common. We have to do something about it.”

On Monday, The Shift News questioned his stand when posts inciting violence against dissidents and politicians from the Opposition were making the rounds in the group. Camilleri was also a member of the group when members celebrated the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Camilleri’s public reaction to online hate speech had been limited to those of the posts by 21-year-old Kylie Cutajar, 28-year-old Josef D’Amato and 28-year-old Ritmark Borg who posted distasteful comments making light of the incident involving traffic policeman Simon Schembri, injured on 15 May by 17-year old Liam Debono who was known to the police and is now charged with attempted murder.

The president of the Police Officers Union of the GWU (closely affiliated to the Labour Party in government) reacted strongly to Cutajar’s original Facebook post, claiming it represented a societal hatred of the police force. Camilleri spent some four days on a whirlwind of interviews – appearing to cry in one of them – pushing this claim.

The police arrested the trio, confiscated their phones and laptops, and arraigned them in court under arrest on 18 May in front of duty magistrate Joe Mifsud, who remanded them in custody. They were eventually released on bail after 12 days in prison by Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit.

No action is known to have been taken by the police on posts inciting violence in the secret Labour online groups. Some of the groups’ administrators work at the Justice and Education ministries, funded by taxpayers.

The President left the groups two days after The Shift News revealed top government officials as members of these groups, totalling some 60,000 members, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“The President has consistently and unreservedly condemned any type of bullying or threats of violence irrespective of their source and vociferously advocates that such abhorrent sentiments have no place in Maltese society,” she said in a statement.

The secret Labour groups have been in operation for seven years, since the Labour Party was in Opposition. While the Party has been in government, the groups have grown in size and scope.

They can drive a manufactured news cycle that targets individuals which, combined with the Party’s media ownership and influence, makes dangerous any criticism of the government, the Labour Party and State institutions.

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