Wednesday 10 October 2012 - 12:36 by Karl Stagno-Navarra
Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja. Photo: Ray Attard/Mediatoday.
A court decision yesterday to conditionally discharge a man on attempted murder charges, because he had been 'provoked' by homophobic taunts on the part of the victim, sent the message that homophobia can be condoned in certain circumstances, according to the Malta Gay Rights Movement's coordinator Gabi Calleja.
Alan Gauci, 36 of Mellieha, was let off the hook yesterday by Magistrate Carol Peralta after admitting to causing permanent disability to an Australian tourist in 2004. In the incident, Gauci deliberately ran his victim over in a car at 4am, after being called "gay" by the tourist.
Peralta noted in the ruling that since the incident happened in Mellieha, and before fellow villagers, the insinuation that the accused was 'gay' "even if there is wrong with that, perhaps in the accused's psyche and other villagers', was not acceptable."
The ruling was received with consternation and occasionally derision on online social networking sites. Reacting to the unusual decision, MGRM director Gabi Calleja observed that the violent reaction was disproportionate to the offence.
"While in no way justifying the actions of the victim, it is somewhat disconcerting that the court thinks that harassing someone verbally on one single occasion justifies such a violent and extreme reaction which resulted in a permanent disability. What does this say about how Maltese courts view incidents of domestic violence or rape where a man claims provocation by the victim?"
Calleja added that the ruling may also be interpreted as a justification of homophobic sentiments.
"While the accused might have felt that being called gay was an insult to his manhood and damaged his reputation, the message that the court is sending by this sentence is that homophobia is to be condoned rather than challenged," she told MaltaToday.
"Irrespective of where the accused was from, the reaction was disproportionate to the harm suffered. Magistrate Peralta's sentence justifies taking the law into one's own hands, something which I believe goes contrary to the basic role of any member of the judiciary - upholding the rule of law."
The court noted that Gauci had been provoked into reacting the way he did, when he drove his Sunbeam vehicle onto Australian national Jeremy Lalic, seriously injuring him and causing him permanent disability.
The incident happened on the night of March 21, 2004 when Gauci and his friends were drinking at Zap's Bar in Mellieha. Lalic and his friend walked into the bar, and according to the prosecuting police inspector, drank heavily to the extent that they got drunk, and started to make noise and annoy patrons.
Lalic had allegedly called Gauci 'gay', and made hand gesticulations behind his back to the same effect.
The Australians were subsequently kicked out of the bar, and Gauci left some time afterwards, only to find Lalic and his friend walking up the road.
It was here that Gauci decided to drive into them, hitting Lalic and seriously injuring him.
Gauci testified that he did not react to gesticulations made by Lalic behind his back, but the prosecuting inspector said he was heard saying that "this man [Lalic] deserves to be run over by a car".
Magistrate Peralta noted in his judgement that the accused, who claimed in court to have acted in 'defence of his honour', "lives in Mellieha, and in his psyche, had a reputation to defend in his village".
"The incident happened in Mellieha, and before fellow villagers, so the insinuation that the accused was 'gay' - even if there is nothing wrong with that - perhaps in the accused's psyche and other villagers', was not acceptable."
In its judgement, the Court relied on evidence given by the prosecutor Inspector Michael Mallia, who said that the incident was a result of provocation.