Saturday, March 3, 2012 , by Claudia Calleja
Sexual orientation would be included in the legal definition of a hate crime through an amendment to be presented in Parliament on Monday, Justice Minister Chris Said announced yesterday.
Through the amendment, anyone found guilty of committing a crime motivated by homophobia will face a harsher punishment.
The move follows a public outcry for better legal protection to gay people triggered by an item that appeared on The Sunday Times in January. The item told the story of a 16-year-old lesbian, who became known by the fictitious name Amy, and her girlfriend who were allegedly attacked because of their sexual orientation in a Ħamrun square.
A peaceful protest was eventually held in Ħamrun where various organisations called for action to amend the hate crime laws. The Amy initiative, a Facebook group, was also set up for the same reason.
Two male teenagers as well as Amy and her girlfriend were charged in court over the Ħamrun incident and the cases are still pending.
A similar incident came to light on February 6. This led to an Arriva bus driver being sacked for assaulting two women in what the transport company said seemed to be a homophobic act.
Shortly after, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi called an urgent press conference saying he had instructed the Justice Minister to review hate crime laws. Dr Said said that, following consultation with stakeholders, amendments to the Civil Code were reviewed by the Attorney General and approved by Cabinet. They would be presented in Parliament on Monday.
The part of the law that speaks about aggravated offences, or hate crimes, only lists xenophobia as a motivation. Through the amendments, this will be replaced with the words: “Motivated by... hatred against a person or a group on the grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief or political or other opinion.”
The Press Act will also be amended making it illegal to incite hatred on the above grounds. Human rights organisation Aditus and a group of NGOs – the Malta Gay Rights Movement, Integra Foundation, Drachma and LGBT Labour and We Are – welcomed the amendments.
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