Revelations by The Shift News on the Labour Party’s secret groups peddling hate and provoking violence against those critical of the government have caused “shock and disgust,” Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi said.
Speaking during adjournment time on Tuesday evening, the day after the six-month investigation was published, Azzopardi appealed to President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca – who has been a member of these groups for some seven years – not to remain passive.
An investigation by The Shift News into six of the biggest pro-Muscat Facebook groups – numbering 60,000 members – found coordinated attacks on anti-corruption activists and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family, including calls for sexual violence.
The information was compiled over the past six months by whistleblowers working with The Shift News in the groups, who gained access to restricted and secret membership groups.
Alongside the Prime Minister and Labour leader himself, a minimum of eight senior staff working for him are members of Facebook groups containing violent comments, including the distribution of anti-corruption activists’ personal details and calls for them to be physically attacked, sexually assaulted, and stalked.
The senior staff includes: Keith Schembri (the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff), Konrad Mizzi (Minister of Tourism), Chris Cardona (Minister of the Economy), Glenn Bedingfield (MP and consultant to the Prime Minister), Neville Gafa (consultant to the Prime Minister), Tony Zarb (consultant to the Prime Minister), Rosianne Cutajar (MP and communications coordinator in the Prime Minister’s Office), and Robert Musumeci (consultant to the Prime Minister’s Office).
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who called for a law on cyber-bullying in April 2017, is also a member of the groups.
Azzopardi questioned why the President had remained a member of these groups for all these years. She remained a member even after the content and purpose of the groups was made public.
“Leave these groups, condemn them and those behind them and make a public call for the Police Commissioner to take steps against this breach of the Criminal Code,” Azzopardi appealed to the President.
No member of government has left or distanced itself from any of these groups.
“Any member of these groups has access to the worst kind of language, and images filled with hatred that provoke violence and physical aggression against politicians who are not members of the Labour Party or who are critical of the PL…and co-ordinated attacks against anti-corruption activists and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family,” Azzopardi said.
None of the politicians identified in the news report has left any of the groups.
Azzopardi confirmed the posts were in breach of the Data Protection Act and Article 82 A of the Criminal Code and liable to imprisonment for a term from six to 18 months.
Administrators of the groups include staff from the Justice Ministry, which is responsible for ensuring freedom of expression. “The government boasts about the new Media Bill and then secretly targets you with hate and aggression,” Azzopardi said.
“The Maltese government is instigating attacks on its own citizens. This is not acceptable in a democracy. It is an attack on freedom of expression and the right to protest. It shows the extent the PL is willing to go to silence it critics.
“It’s outrageous that Daphne was labelled a hate blogger because she exposed corruption when government officials are responsible for the vile abuse against anyone who publicly disagrees with them,” Azzopardi added.
The Shift News investigation found:
- Images depicting non-Labour Party politicians, including David Casa and Simon Busuttil, as satanic demons, some with green faces, crooked noses, and surrounded by flames.
- Images depicting non-Labour Party politicians in murder fantasies, including Godfrey Farrugia with a noose around his neck.
- Homophobic posts criticising perceived enemies of Joseph Muscat, including descriptions of the Archbishop as a ‘pufta’ and Simon Busuttil as ‘Simonlina…li jhobb il-banana’ [Simonlina likes the banana].
- Posts and comments celebrating Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, describing her as ‘sahara hadra’ [evil witch] and calling on fellow members to let her burn in hell.
- Comments describing Nationalist Party supporters as ‘fascist bastards’, ‘traitors’, ‘scum’, and ‘animals’.
- Calls for anti-corruption activists to be identified, targeted, and attacked.
“Does a liberal government drive social media lynching?” Azzopardi asked the Prime Minister.
Azzopardi said the Prime Minister should declare whether he agreed with the behaviour shown in these groups and why he had not distanced himself from the hatred and the threats.