Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Times: PM orders law review

Transport Malta condemns Friday's bus driver incident
Wednesday, February 8, 2012 , by Kurt Sansone

Two violent assaults in the span of a few weeks possibly linked to homophobia have sounded the alarm bells for Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who yesterday urged everyone to respect the dignity of all people.

A day after news emerged that Arriva had sacked a bus driver who assaulted two women, in what the transport company said had seemed to be a homophobic act, Dr Gonzi insisted an individual's dignity had to be respected "independently of colour, belief or sexual orientation". He added that he had instructed Justice Minister Chris Said to reviewthe laws and if necessary make them tighter.

"I expect all the forces of law and order to follow the government's direction by enforcing the laws and avoiding all forms of discrimination," Dr Gonzi said.

On Friday, during a meeting with representatives of the gay community, Dr Said was reported telling them that possible changes to hate crime laws, to include acts motivated by gender and sexual orientation, were being analysed by the Attorney General and the ministry's legal experts.

The bus incident came soon after another violent assault on two lesbians in Ħamrun by two young men.

Making a short statement during a hastily called press briefing at Castille, Dr Gonzi said the two cases were still being investigated and subject to court proceedings, but if homophobia was proven, it would be "very worrying".

Gabi Calleja, coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, welcomed the Prime Minister's statement. "We're glad that finally there was a reaction by the government to the recent incidents."

She said the gay lobby's expectations were still what they were before: a more comprehensive legal change to introduce hate crimes based on gender and sexual orientation, and legal recognition of same-sex couples.

Last month, Daniel Baer, the deputy assistant secretary of the US Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labour, told this newspaper in a web interview the homophobic attack on two teenagers provided Malta's leaders with the opportunity to condemn such violence.
Call for hate crime legislation and greater education on diversity

"When ministers talk, people listen," Dr Baer had said, urging the government to focus on better legal protection for gay people.

In the wake of the bus incident that took place last Friday, Marco Borg, 43, was accused by the police of causing slight injuries to the two women, aged 17 and 21. He was also accused of disrupting public order and relapsing.

Mr Borg, who was sacked by Arriva, was granted bail against a personal guarantee of €1,000 on condition that he does not approach the women.

Transport Malta, the transport regulator, yesterday condemned the incident, insisting it would not tolerate such behaviour.

The regulator promised to take all action permissible at law against any driver involved in the incident, including the suspension or revocation of the driver's permit. Transport Malta has also asked the bus company for an official report on the incident.

The National Youth Council also condemned all forms of gay discrimination and welcomed the prompt police action to charge the aggressor.

The council called for the introduction of hate crime legislation and greater education on diversity.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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