Maltese Justice Minister Chris Said has hinted he may extend current hate crime laws to include crimes based on gender and sexual orientation during a meeting with representatives of the gay community.
In the span of a few weeks, Malta has been rocked by a string of violent assaults linked to homophobia. On 13 January, a 16-year-old lesbian girl and her girlfriend were attacked by two teenage boys in a public park. They have now been officially charged with assault and are due to appear in court.
On 3 February, an off duty bus driver was involved in an incident with two female passengers on a bus in what transport company Arriva said had seemed to be a homophobic assault. The driver was arrested and later released on €1,000 ($1,300) bail.
Although an EU member and a signatory of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which includes sexual orientation as a basis for non-discrimination, Malta has never changed its domestic hate crime legislation to include a sexual orientation clause.
At a peaceful demonstration in Hamrun in the aftermath of the first homophobic attack, Malta Gay Rights Movement spokesperson Gabi Calleja said ‘raising awareness is important but during this demonstration we’re insisting on political responsibility. We’re asking for legislation which covers more than racial hate.’
With the recent bus incident raising public awareness of Malta’s incomprehensive legal framework to protect gays against hate crimes, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi called the recent homophobic assaults ‘very worrying’, stating that ‘he had instructed Justice Minister Chris Said to review the laws and if necessary make them tighter.’
The Maltese government has also been pushed to make a public statement by the US Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labour, urging Malta’s leaders to ‘condemn such violence.’