Civil society group Repubblika said its members have received an unprecedented amount of insults and attacks online following the press conference by Prime Minister Robert Abela on Friday.
In a televised speech aired by the State broadcaster, Abela, with his Cabinet sitting behind him, lashed out at Repubblika and one of the organisations lawyers, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi, for filing two criminal complaints following migrant deaths. No journalist could ask questions at the ‘press conference’.
Repubblika said during an online press conference this morning that it was receiving attacks “on a level (they) hadn’t reached before”. Abela’s speech was a “coordinated attack” that had “grave consequences,” the organisation said, stressing that the prime minister was using the pandemic to attack democracy.
Abela accused Repubblika and Azzopardi of jeopardising the country’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic especially in light of the work that the army was doing after Repubblika filed two criminal complaints stating that Abela, the Army commander and 11 soldiers were responsible for the death of 12 migrants at sea.
“In a moment of a public health emergency, the work of 12 officials to successfully fight coronavirus will be hindered,” Abela said, adding that it was a strike at a government that was protecting the interests of its citizens. His speech was immediately followed by a flood of supporters on social media calling for “a show of force”.
They included members of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s propagandists who have a history of inciting hate, including Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield, who ran a blog from Castille targeting dissidents, and who re-emerged to voice his point of view using war terminology and images of WW11 equating those defending human rights with fascist sentiment.
“The narrative being spread is that because of what we did, we are traitors who do not love our country and – according to the Labour MP Glen Bedingfield – we are working in the interests of the ‘enemy’. We do not know who this enemy is. But the Government is trying to taint us in order to make us appear as enemies of Malta and Gozo,” Repubblika said.
The government was using the same tactics as the previous administration had inflicted on slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, by trying to isolate and demonise, the group said.
Repubblika warned of the danger of a government retaliating because citizens dared to ask an institution of the country to investigate his actions according to the law and in a peaceful way.
Abela’s speech made group members targets and presented them as “enemies of the people”, but Repubblika insisted that law and justice had to prevail in Malta, even during a pandemic.
“If we were to allow this to become an excuse for government to leave those in danger of dying to drown and to silence anyone who objects, then the country we love so much will lose its democracy.”