Police Union chief’s selective condemnation of hate speech

The head of the GWU’s police union, inspector Sandro Camilleri, told The Sunday Times of Malta that “hateful and offensive comments on social media have become intolerable and all too common. We have to do something about it.” Fine words except he has been a member of one of the biggest Labour online hate groups for a year, in which time posts inciting violence against journalists, citizens and politicians critical of the government seem to not have caused the same reaction.

Camilleri has been an active member of the secret group ‘Laburisti sal-Mewt’ (Labourites until we die) since June 2017. The Shift News has exposed these groups and their function in peddling hate, setting up targets and spreading propaganda. He is regularly tagged in posts in this groups, which also serve to prop up his statements and rally members to support his views on any subject.

Camilleri’s reaction to online hate speech were 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 in an obscure corner of Facebook making light of the incident involving traffic policeman Simon Schembri who was seriously 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.

Former European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonnello was critical of Mifsud’s decision. He told The Sunday Times of Malta: “At that stage [of initial arraignment] they are still innocent of any criminal taint. The court has to deal with them as innocent persons whom the prosecution claims it suspects of having committed a criminal offence. No one can make an example of innocent persons by denying them bail, simply because the crime they are accused of outrages public sentiment. Bail is granted or denied on specific, well-defined criteria, not to appease popular resentment.”

The comment was made in a context where The Shift News has shown how Labour hate groups, of which Camilleri is a member, served to generate a news cycle of hate against the three activists.

In court last Tuesday, Camilleri said: “We [the police union] were inundated by complaints about those comments,” he said. “I posted the screenshots, which became viral, so the complaint in this case was made by many people.” The complaints he referred to were in large part from the Labour group of which he is a member.

At the same time, Camilleri called for relevant police units to be expanded to enable proactive policing of online content.

The suggestion is that the police do not trawl social media for illegal content. Yet, Camilleri is a member of the group that has been shown to do this for the past seven years. His active membership, and the fact that he has chosen to ignore much more serious posts inciting violence against dissidents and journalists, raises a number of questions on Camilleri’s real purpose.

Camilleri was active in this cycle against the three denied bail by Labour-appointed magistrate Joseph Mifsud. He pushed it forward until it spilt into mainstream media. This contrasts with the cycles of hate that Camilleri ignored in the Labour group.

The Shift News has shown how the groups celebrated the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, at a time when Camilleri was a member of these groups.

Posts included the words, ““fox id dem taha haluwa tinharaq isa [sic]” (fuck her blood [?] now let her burn)”, “ma tistax rip ghax saret bicciet lanqas tista titqaleb ahseb u ara carma is a bich [sic]’ (she can’t rest in peace because she’s in pieces, she can’t even be buried, karma is a bitch) and “[f]uck freedom of speech!…And if it’s freedom of speech we want well this is my freedom of speech!! Haqqa! [she deserved it!]”.

READ MORE: Behind the scenes: How Labour online groups reacted to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination

He did not feel the need to raise the alarm then, just as he did not feel the need to raise the alarm when an activist’s personal details where shared on these groups with messages calling for action against her.

Two police reports filed by Tina Urso after she was attacked in these groups following a protest against the Prime Minister in London did not result in any protection, but Camilleri seems to have no issue with this.

Camilleri was a member of these groups when all this was going on. He did not feel the need to raise the alarm then.

His reaction was only to protests calling for the resignation of Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, as citizens called for justice and pointed out the lack of investigation into corruption allegations by the police.

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: “do 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”.


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