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Archbishop denounces ‘hate speech’ after Zarb’s comments

Mgr. Scicluna makes his first public comments following election

Tony Zarb. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Tony Zarb. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Character assassination and attempts at intimidation have no place in a democracy, Archbishop Charles Scicluna said yesterday in reaction to the invective aimed at three MEPs by former General Workers’ Union secretary general Tony Zarb.

“Hate speech, wherever it comes from, is unbecoming of grownups debating issues of national importance. Democracy will never be served by attempts at character assassination and intimidation of the other,” Mgr. Scicluna told this newspaper in reply to questions.

Over the past few days, veteran trade unionist and Labour activist Mr Zarb has launched vitriolic attacks against MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa, calling them “traitors and backstabbers” among other terms. His tirades also extended to Pana committee chairman Werner Langen, following a European Parliament debate on rule of law in Malta.

READ: No 'issa daqshekk' for former GWU boss Tony Zarb

Mr Zarb also told his social media followers that the two MEPs should be greeted at the airport as traitors.

The Archbishop yesterday said that he joined President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca in appealing for everyone to engage with each other in a “civilised and mature way”. He was referring to an election day statement issued by the President calling for reconciliation and unity in the country. 

This marks the first time the head of the Maltese Church has reacted to anything related to the country’s political situation following the general election held two weeks ago.

The Archbishop said democracy will only thrive where there is “true freedom of thought and expression under the rule of law”.

Democracy will only thrive when there is true freedom of expression

Questions about rule of law in Malta have been raised both locally and abroad in recent months, particularly after the leak of reports by the government anti-money-laundering agency (FIAU) into the financial activities of both the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

The comments by Mr Zarb come only a week after a series of editorials in L-Orizzont peppered with similar language. The daily pro-Labour newspaper, owned by the General Workers’ Union, ran editorials calling for independent media houses as well as the Curia to “disappear from the scene” while also naming individual journalists who reported on corruption.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made his own appeal for unity following the intense and acrimonious electoral campaign. He has also expressed disagreement with the language used in the L-Orizzont editorials.

Meanwhile, contacted for a reaction to Mr Zarb’s comments, both Dr Metsola and Mr Casa reiterated that it was shameful that those close to the Labour Party continued to resort to hate speech in the face of criticism.

“As someone who remembers the militant eurosceptic Mr Zarb of the 1990s, I have always taken him with more than a pinch of salt,” Dr Metsola said.

“But while we may have always been on opposite sides of the debate, it is sad to see that a former stalwart of Malta’s trade union movement has descended into seeking attention by spewing hate on the internet, ranting and raving at his perceived enemies, in a last dash at notoriety,”

She argued that Mr Zarb is no ordinary internet troll as he is someone who enjoys the respect of many. It was sad to see that he had now resorted to “scrambling desperately for likes on Facebook”.

“You grow a thick skin in politics, but his hate speech and his call for a mob to come after Mr Casa and myself has no place in civilised debate.

“Of course, we do not scare easily – if anything this only strengthens our resolve – but it does nothing to help the right people get involved in politics, and frankly the deafening silence from the government speaks volumes,” Dr Metsola went on.

She added that politics should be a battle of ideas and not hate and called for an end to the “false divisions” caused by an outdated us-and-them mentality that was holding Malta back.

On his part, Mr Casa criticised those close to the Labour Party who he said continued to show disrespect towards EU institutions and their members.  

“These particular comments are verging on inciting violence as evidenced by the hateful posts they triggered. I will criticise the government when criticism is due. I will voice the concerns of Maltese people that are genuinely concerned about the situation in Malta,” Mr Casa insisted.

While pointing out that the European Parliament is not a foreign institution but should be regarded also as “our parliament”, Mr Casa said that Mr Zarb’s comments were not defending Malta but corruption.

“His statement continues to build on the reputational damage inflicted on Malta since Dr Muscat has been at the helm. This behaviour continues to damage our financial services sector, the defence of which I am committed to.”

In yet another Facebook post reacting to reports about his comments, Mr Zarb insisted he was sticking by what he had said. He said nobody could stop him from “defending his country”.

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