NGO Statement – aditus foundation, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta)
We strongly condemn the manner in which the Malta Police Force escorted a group of arrested migrants, including a number of minors, to Court this morning.
Publicly available images and videos show the arrested migrants brought to Court via one of Malta’s busiest pedestrian streets. All men were tied together in pairs with cable ties, seemed to be wearing the same clothes they had on when arrested yesterday and it was reported that some were without shoes. A large number of accompanying Police officers were wearing white sanitary gloves.
We believe this treatment to be inhumane and prejudicial to the presumption of innocence principle. International and European standards include the State obligation to ensure that suspects are not presented in Court or in public in a manner that infers guilt. This treatment also amounts to institutionalised racism since this way of parading accused persons seems to be reserved to non-Maltese nationals.
We are unclear as to why the men and children were paraded in public in such a manner. It is customary for arrested persons to be brought to Court from the back entrance in Strait Street, and attempts are generally made to respect their privacy and dignity. It should be stressed that minors should be awarded specific protections throughout criminal proceedings, which include restriction on the publication of their names and images. This is not the first time we are witnessing migrants, including children, brought to Court in this manner.
We are therefore led to believe that these are not isolated episodes but, rather, intentional conduct of members of the Police Force or the result of a policy decision.
We also underline that all persons are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This is their fundamental human right as enshrined in Malta’s Constitution and international and European human rights law. The manner in which they were brought to Court portrays them as guilty and dangerous, in clear violation of this fundamental principle. Furthermore, the presence of children within the group should have cautioned the Police officers to exercise an added level of care and caution. In this regard, we urge the Police Force, the correctional facilities and also the Courts to ensure that all children benefit from the guarantees afforded to children in criminal proceedings.
Finally, it is significant to note that all were all charged with crimes in relation to a protest that took place in Safi Detention Centre on Monday. We have previously had the opportunity to note that the on-going detention of hundreds of men, women and children at Safi Detention Centre and the Marsa Initial Reception Centre is illegal, as explicitly pronounced by Maltese Courts in November 2019. Furthermore, the prolonged detention of asylum-seekers in Safi was also held to be illegal and not within the bounds of the law by UNCHR Malta.
We question whether this is the best Malta is truly able to offer people fleeing war, persecution and other human rights abuses in their home countries: illegal detention and a parade as criminals along Republic Street.
In view of the above, the undersigned organisations believe it is imperative that the Malta Police Force provides an explanation as to why the group of 22 were brought to Court in this inhumane manner, and outlines which safeguards were put in place to safeguard the vulnerability of the children in the group. We further urge it to codify and implement procedures for escorting accused persons to Court, without discrimination on the basis of the person’s country of origin.