Hate Speech Unit receives 32 reports in seven months

The Hate Crime and Speech Unit, which was set up to assist and provide therapeutic and legal services to victims of hate crime, has received a grand total of 32 reports since its inception in October 2019.

The Shift got hold of these statistics to understand whether this unit has received a high number of complaints in light of the wide-ranging online hate speech – some of which is coming from the country’s top officials.

However, in a matter of seven months, the unit received 32 reports, which amounts to an average of 4.5 reports a month. No details were provided about the type of hate speech – as to whether it was related to race or political belief, for example.

The unit has a total of 12 individuals who come from both psychological and legal backgrounds. It was also set up to serve as a reference point to make people aware of hate speech on various platforms and to encourage victims to seek help.

“One must clarify that some reports are lodged directly to the unit by third parties whereas some cases are referred to the Hate Crime Unit by the Police Victim Support Unit,” the unit said.

Considering the barrage of hate speech online every single day, the official number of reported cases is small. A quick glance at social media quickly reveals how rampant hate crime is – a simple comment about whether the government is lifting the coronavirus quarantine measures too quickly can escalate to outrageous abuse.

One of the most recent examples of someone who recently fell victim to a heavy attack of online hate speech online is former Nationalist Party general secretary Paul Borg Olivier. It was Labour Party MEP Alex Agius Saliba who put Borg Olivier on display by saying that he was attacking Malta for representing the relatives of migrants who feel aggrieved by the government’s actions.

Borg Oliver was one of the lawyers who had filed a judicial protest on behalf of the relatives of two asylum-seekers who died at sea in April against Prime Minister Robert Abela, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and AFM Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi. When Agius Saliba called him out on Facebook, this led to a barrage of vitriolic comments, insulting him.

Another incident, which created a huge backlash, came from Abela who recently lashed out at civil society group NGO Repubblica during an entire press conference, which led to them receiving an unprecedented number of online insults and attacks within hours.

The group said Abela’s speech was a “coordinated attack” that had “grave consequences.” The Prime Minister had accused the group of jeopardising the country’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic for filing two criminal complaints following migrant deaths.

It is ironic to have a government unit set up to help victims of hate speech, which is in turn perpetrated by government officials. And this is not something new. The Shift had revealed how former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s claim to represent positive politics that did away with tribalism was a cover for a relentlessly violent and abusive campaign.

In a more recent investigation, The Shift looked into a similar pattern that was taking place under Abela’s watch where people like Karl Stagno Navarra, who are paid by taxpayers to push the government agenda, attack critics and journalists who don’t toe the government line.

                           
                               
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