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Hate crime laws probed

Last month several organisations held a peaceful protest in Ħamrun where two lesbian girls were beaten up. Photo: Jason Borg

Last month several organisations held a peaceful protest in Ħamrun where two lesbian girls were beaten up. Photo: Jason Borg

Proposed changes to hate crime laws, to include acts motivated by gender and sexual orientation, are being analysed by the Attorney General and the Justice Ministry’s legal experts.

Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja said this emerged during a meeting held with Justice Minister Chris Said on Friday.

The movement, together with other organisations, presented the proposed amendments following a peaceful protest held recently in Ħamrun, where two lesbian girls were attacked last month.

Homophobia may also have been the motive behind a more recent case when, on Friday, a young woman was allegedly pushed to the ground by an off-duty bus driver.

As things stand, the only legal protection gay people have refers to discrimination in terms of harassment. The part of the law that speaks about hate crime is limited to racial hatred or xenophobia.

A ministry spokesman said amendments to hate crime, as defined in the Criminal Code, were waiting to be appointed for a second reading in Parliament. The proposed amendments involved adding the word “homophobia” to “xenophobia” in two sections of the law.

The MGRM proposals were more comprehensive and spoke about crimes motivated on grounds of gender and sexual orientation.

The movement proposed amendments to about six sections of the Criminal Code and the Press Act.

The amendments sparked a debate as some argued that all crimes should be treated equally.

Lawyer and opinion writer Claire Bonello found the concept of hate crimes to be illogical and discriminatory.

“It makes little sense to punish the different motives of a crime when the end result is the same – injury to the victim ... If a person is attacked because the aggressor feels some sort of personal animosity towards the victim, why should that attack be punished less severely than one where the aggressor hates the victim because of the latter’s religious affiliation or belonging to a minority group? The whole notion of hate crimes does away with the concept of equality in the eyes of the law,” she said.

However, lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia and Neil Falzon disagreed. Dr Comodini Cachia said a hate crime was defined as an act against a particular group of people. This was different from a random mugging where the motivation was theft or to someone attacking someone following a disagreement.

“The motive is that the person is attacked because of what he represents and that is why a hate crime is punished with a higher punishment,” she said

Dr Falzon, who chairs human rights organisation Aditus, said the law had to send out a message that it was not tolerated to target one particular group. This was in society’s best interest. It was important to look at the context in which a crime was committed.

“If people are being attacked because they belong to a group, you really don’t know who could be next. There is a high level of uncertainty as anyone could be placed at risk,” he said.

During Friday’s meeting with MGRM, Dr Said committed himself to look into the position paper on Marriage Equality recently launched by the movement, Ms Calleja said.

Within two months, Parliament will discuss expanding the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality to include sexual orientation.

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