To assess whether a punishment delivered by the law courts is just or not by reading a newspaper report isn’t very rational. The reason is that the judge would (or at least, should) have judged the case considering a number of variables that do not appear in a short report from a journalist.

 

What can be assessed quite accurately though is the trends in punishment delivery. And what these trends are showing is that Maltese laws are a complete mess.

 

For the sake of simplicity I will focus on two kinds of crime: Drug related (not including theft for drug money) and violence related (including sexual violence and rape).

 

On drugs, Malta’s laws are ridiculously harsh. While I don’t agree with the legalization of hard drugs since this might increase availability, one fact cannot be denied:  No one is forced to buy drugs.

 

I’m not putting into doubt the devastating effect of drugs. I’ve lost close friends myself to them. I’ve seen families being ruined, and otherwise good, law abiding people committing serious crimes.

 

The point is, the war on drugs – the way we’re waging it – has failed, miserably.  Law enforcement, while it should be there, shouldn’t be the main weapon against drugs. Drug addiction is a disease and should be treated as such – with prevention and treatment. On a positive note, we have excellent services in Malta, though I would like more resources pumped into them, rather than into keeping people behind bars.

 

Then, there is the main issue on the failure of drug laws enforcement. The problem is not that sentences are too soft, the problem is corruption. We are jailing, for unreasonably long periods of time people who are nothing more than couriers. That the kingpins are brought to justice is extremely rare, and when they do they are the ones who enjoy the best lawyers and exploit every legal loopholes that can save them from long periods of imprisonment, if any.

 

It’s an open secret that someone is protecting them. Corruption has invaded every institution of power in this country, yet no one wants to do anything about it. Like many other Maltese people, I know – sometimes beyond reasonable doubt – some things that are going on. But what can I do, without the hard evidence?

 

So, to hide all this dirt and appear to be doing something, we become too harsh with the couriers.

 

What about violence?

 

That, we treat with a velvet glove. Beat the shit out of your wife and you’ll get a suspended sentence. Worse still, in the case of domestic violence, some people are granted bail and are sent to live (believe it or not) in the same house with the victim, since it’s the matrimonial home. All this when the main reasons for not granting bail include the risk of tampering with evidence and intimidating the witness!

 

Non-domestic violence is also treated lightly. The message given from the law court seems to be “hurt whoever you want unless you kill him”. Otherwise it will be treated as a murder and that (at least) has to be taken seriously.

 

Sexual abuse and rape are also treated with caution, lest we punish the abusers too much. The sentences given to the priests convicted of abusing a number of children are shameful to say the least.

 

It this same week a foreigner was granted 14 years imprisonment for importing heroin. Another foreigner was jailed for 9 years for beating a man unconscious, raping him and leaving him tied up. (9 years prison isn’t a joke, but relatively speaking it is definitely too lenient).

If this is what we call justice, I’m curious to know what injustice looks like.

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Something snaps in his mind. He walks to the nearest school, smiles at the gardener and walks towards a classroom. No one suspects anything that unusual until he pulls out the gun and starts shooting innocent kids and their teachers. Then, he turns to himself.

We do hear about such freaks doing these despicable acts from time to time. There is no way to justify such deeds. Trying to do so would definitely do no justice with the victims. However up to a certain extent it is understandable, it is not completely baffling to find the causes of such behavior. Many times these people feel excluded from society to the extent that they hate it. They live in a world of their own. Their mind is plagued by obsessive thoughts. Or maybe they hear voices telling them to do such atrocities.

Then there is another category of people doing despicable acts. A category of people that no matter how much I try, I could never understand what is going through their minds. Many of these have families and kids, go to church an donate money to charity.

The people I’m talking about are filthy rich, and extremely powerful. I’m not referring to the better off, the next door neighbour who owns expensive cars and a couple of villas. I’m referring to a category of people that are so rich that can take decisions that determine the fate of whole countries, or even the whole world. They may be CEO’s or shareholders who are willing to murder thousands of people for a little more profit.

A few can be found in the armaments industry. While I disagree with the production of most weapons, in conventional business it is just demand and supply. A government or a militia needs your goods and you produce them. It is understandable. The ones I could not understand are those that lobby government (with extremely huge amounts of money) to create wars so that they can sell more weapons. They go out of the perimeters of basic demand and supply. They want governments to take irrational decisions that will end taking up thousands of innocent lives just to sell a product.

Then there are those that invest in poverty – literally. Nestle is one example. How could a rational person come out with such an evil idea: Convince poor mothers with no access to education that their own natural resource (milk) is harmful for their babies. They convince these people who barely have anything to eat that breastfeeding is wrong and give them their own milk for free until their breasts run dry. Then they sell them the milk. If they can’t afford it they will pay with cheap or even slave labour.

Another group invests in poison. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are severely harmful. The little scientific research that came out in public confirms that. However there is very little research, or if their actually was, most of the results have been hidden from consumers. One reason these products (vegetables in this case) are genetically modified is for the producers to pay less on pesticides. Why spray all that amount to kill the pest when you can grow tomatoes with the poison already installed in each cell? The pest will bite it and die immediately. For the consumer, death takes much longer. Believe it or not, 70% of vegetables available in the U.S markets are genetically modified. Things have gone to such an alarming extremity that even those customers who are aware of their health still buy them because they have no way of knowing which products have GMO’s in them or not. Legislation is designed to outlaw mandatory information to the customer rather than to defend him. To add insult to injury, well-meaning farmers, scientists or political activists who dared criticise GMO’s have been faced with huge lawsuits they can never win. Not because they are wrong, but because they will never be able to afford it. How can Jimmy the framer compete with Monsanto

There are many examples like these, the fruit of the capitalist system. A system that not only angers me, but also leaves me perplexed. What is going on in these people’s brains? Do they sleep at night? Do they switch off their TV sets whenever there’s footage of the pain and horror they had created themselves?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the arson attacks on people and organisations that publicly criticized racism four years ago. The bad news about that episode is that up to now, no one has been arraigned in our Courts. The good news is that the attacks have stopped.

Yet, once again violence intended to intimidate people’s liberties is with us again. This time the victims are anti-hunting lobbyists, who dared filming illegalities. While one can understand a person wouldn’t like others filming him, especially while he/she is breaking the law, this is hardly an excuse.

However, incredibly enough some pro-hunting lobbyists including the notorious FKNK seem to justify these actions. The hunters were provoced they say. Had this been true, the violence is still unacceptable. I have yet to see a wife beater defending himself in court stating ‘Your honor I had to stab here. I had no choice. She called me a son of a bitch’ The wife beater might actually believe he was right, but to have individuals and organisations agreeing with him in public would be really obnoxious.

Then, the hunting lobbysts came up with another excuse. A certain Mr Axisa (CEO of the Ta’ Qali Producers Group) sprouted out of nowhere claiming that he was recieving complaints from farmers victims of the trespassing birdwatchers. Yet, none of these ‘farmers’ had the guts to reveal his identity. The only farmer who did that, Mr John Portelli, claimed that it was hunters that did most of the trespassing on his land. This is a question of guts because unlike the anonymous farmers who reported their misgivings to Mr Axisa, John Portelli is contradicting people who actually carry guns in those fields, at a time when some of them seem more than willing to use them.

For the sake of keeping our hard earned liberties, will the rest of the population, including hunters who respect the rule of law condemn publicly and isolate these thugs? To show them, and others who may have similar ideas (possibly on a different issue) that absolutely no one could be above the law, worse still when violence is involved.

Footage of the violence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJtq1hg_qWM

1,2,3
Arriva Pinochet
4,5,6
A morte gli Ebrei
789
Il negro non commuove
Seig Heil
Apartheid

What makes this ‘slogan’ worrying is the fact that it wasn’t sung by a couple of disoriented teenagers. It was sung by police, the ‘forze del ordine’ of what many consider a democratic country – Italy. These words were chanted while the Police were beating people (the absolute majority of whom were non-violent) who protested against the G8 summit in Italy, July 2001.

More than 300,000 people turned up to protest against the way eight countries were deciding the fate of the world between the 20th and 22nh July 2001 in Genova. They came from various groups and organisations, Catholics, Greens, pacifists, leftists and human rights activists. None of them had any violent intentions except for a small group of 500, the black bloc. With whom the latter were affiliated is still a mistery. The reason for this is chilling in itself, since after the riots, after the police brutality and murder of Carlo Guiliani, out of the 250 people arrested there was not a single ‘black bloc’ member.

Different movements demonstrated in different streets. The 500 black bloc divided themselves and infiltrated all the groups. They went, created a riot and vanished in a couple of minutes. Yet, after they left the violence continued, In many circumstances, especially regarding Catholic movements, the protestors did not offer any resistance, yet they were savagely beaten by the Italian police.

Some other movements retaliated to this abuse. One of them was Carlo Giuliani’s movement, Carlo being the only fatality in the whole episode (towards which two police officers were intercepted saying ‘uno a zero per noi’). Giuliani’s group believed in passive resistance. They were considered as ‘disobedient’ but not violent. At least not before the police started assaulting them with tear gas, beating them and chanting slogans like the one mentioned above.

Yet, there was more to come. Groups of demonstrators rested (with permission) in schools, most notably Scuola Diaz. The police infiltrated the schools and beat the shit out of them, not only the demonstrators but also journalists and medics who happened to be there. Not a single person of them was black bloc.

There is still speculation who the black bloc really were. Some think they were infiltrated within the police, others claim they are neo-fascists with the deliberate intention of disrupting the protests. Others believe they were just hooligans. Whoever they were is not really important now. What is very significant though, is the fact, that when these people committed illegalities, even before the riots started (including destroying the pavement and collecting large stones as ammunition) the ‘forze dell ordine’ did absolutely nothing.

Such repression is expected (though never justified) in countries where there is a dictatorship or a brutal regime in power such as Iran, China or Myanmar. However it is extremely disturbing that all this happened in a so called democratic European country only nine years ago. It is also worth mentioning that Italy is under the same Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in the present day.

The attacks on democracy on July 2001 should never be forgotten, definitely not in the near future. They are a reminder that even in a European democracy a government can use an iron fist on civilians just exercising their fundamental rights of assembly and expression.

The only good thing that could come out of this tragedy is learning from it.

A few years ago, a man escaped from prison with only one goal in mind: to kill another person, knowing that this would make him a murderer apart from thief, and that most likely he would never get out of prison in alive. However, the killing did not only make him a murderer. It also a made him a hero in the community, because the victim was not only hated in the neighborhood, but worse still – feared. He was a usurer and used to keep the prison escapee’s mother, along with a number of other people in the community, in constant terror.

A few days ago, another well known usurer was murdered. By the time of writing, it is still not sure whether the murder is related to usury. What is sure is that there are a number of people in his community that consider the murderer as God sent.

Having said that, I must say like I did many times before that I am against any kind of vigilantism (taking the law in your hands). Whatever the reasons, these situations are cases of murder and should be punished (though I do expect a more lenient sentence if the man you killed had been terrifying you or your family). However, vigilantism should not only be stopped by punishment but also by justice. Usury is still not considered as a severe crime, and sometimes it is even punished with just a suspended sentence. This is mostly due to the fact that in many situations while the illegal lending of money could be proven without reasonable doubt, the threats and violence couldn’t.

Thus the laws on the illegal lending of money should be stepped up. Even if there are no threats and violence or can’t be proven.

Contrary to the way the law is, I believe that usury should be considered as a more serious crime than drug trafficking. A drug dealer is selling a deadly substance. A substance that will get, or keep a person hooked up on it possibly for life. It will probably make his life a living hell, and eventually kill him. However, unlike the victim of usury, the drug addict still has a choice. As hard as it is he can still have his life back by rehabilitating himself, and the drug dealer can do nothing to stop this. The victim of usury usually has no more say in his life. If the victim had been a drug addict or a gambler, no amount of rehab and therapy will stop the usurer from getting his money back, with the astronomic interests.

Victims of usury have very limited options, all of them negative to themselves as well as to the rest of society. Basically these are: engaging in criminal activity to get the money, suicide, murdering their oppressor or fleeing the country.

I’ve worked with victims of usury, and would like to end this article with a chilling account one young mother told me:

“When pay time is approaching, I see him there daily. From 6.00 a.m his car will be parked in front of my house and he watches, just watches and makes his presence felt. When I go out with Jamie he just gazes at him. He’s just 3 years old, but realises that the man is watching him. I tell him he is a crazy man but is harmless, he just looks at people and does nothing. Which is true mind you, he just looks. However that’s because I pay him a hefty sum each month. I’ve already paid him three times as much the original sum he has lent me.”

We see many issues in the daily news which are of no much relevance, storm in teacups. Yet we rarely hear about usury. Unfortunately this is not because it doesn’t exist. It exists and how. It’s just because the victims are afraid to speak up. They know the law will not protect them. And when they get hit by a car or thrown off a bridge, media wise, it is just another unfortunate accident or a suicide

As an environmentalist, as well as a believer in civil liberties I’m very angered at the latest attack by Pope Razinger on homosexuals. Once again this Pope is using the environment as a lousy excuse to oppose something he disagrees with. In this case it’s the fact that the Portugese parliament has accepted homosexual marriages.

Mr Razinger stated he considers gay marriages as unnatrual and an ‘attack on creation’. What the Pope doesn’t seem to note is the fact that many animals including cats, do engage in same sex activities. He also seems not aware while there are species of animals where couples engage in long term, even life-long relationship, not a single one of them found the need to sign a contract for it.

Worse still, Mr Razinger considers this ‘blurring of gender’ as the road to the destruction of humankind, and compares it to the destruction of rainforests. May the Pope gently explain how? I don’t feel that I need to explain the consequences of destroying rainforests, most probably you already know them. But gay marriages? Does he think that by giving homosexuals the right to marry everyone will turn homosexual and no human male sperm will ever meet a female egg? Does the Pope still think that gays can be ‘cured’ or that heterosexuals can be ‘converted’.

While these comments have angered well meaning homosexuals as well as  environmentalists, his comments might flare more the fanatic homophobes. A law is being proposed by the Ugandan governement, a counry with a Christian majority, to introduce ‘aggravated homosexuality’. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, punishable by long term imprisonment. The proposal states that ‘aggravated homosexuality’ such as homosexual activity involving an HIV+ person or that of a ‘repeated offender’ would be punishable by death. Worse still, knowing that a person is a homosexual and not reporting it to authorities is punishable by three years imprisonment, even if that person happens to be you own son. I’m sure the Ugandan government is appreciating the support of his new ally, the Pope.

Groups of Christian fanatics, mostly found in the U.S. take the law in their own hands and harass, assault and even murder homosexuals. To add insult to injury, they turn up at the victims funeral carrying slogans such as ‘GOD HATES GAYS’ or worse still ‘THANK GOD FOR AIDS’. These criminals must surely be rejoicing at Mr Razinger’s words. Most probably they take them as an approval for their cowardly acts.

 

Speaking for the majority of environmentalists, may I at least ask the Pope one thing? If you intend to continue fuelling hate crimes could you at least be decent enough and at least refrain for doing it in our name.

Regarding the racially related violence that spread in Rosarno yesterday 8th January, all that Interior Minister Roberto Maroni did was condemn immigration, stating that violence by migrants had been ‘tolerated all these years’. Unfortunately Maroni is (partially) succeeding in fuelling hatred between the people of Rosarno and immigrants. Thanks to this, the attention is taken away from the real cause of the history of violence in Calabria – the N’drangheta – an organisation larger and more brutal than the Sicilian Mafia, that unlike the latter prefers to keep a low profile.

Once again a right-wing leader is using the tactic of divide and rule. Let the oppressed African workers fight with the oppressed, albeit less severely, people of Rosarno. Most of the people in Rosarno support the N’dangreta. What the immigrants do not know is that most of these people, otherwise honest men and women, do so out of fear of this deadly organisation.

Maroni’s words were condemned by the Italian left as xenophobic and racist. However what I find really worrying is not the words he said, but those he didn’t. If one relies on the Interior Minister’s condemnations, the N’drangeta barely exists. Unlike the violence of the immigrants, that of this criminal organisation is never mentioned.

The extreme violence of the N’drangheta is not mainly targeted at African immigrants, but rich Italians living in the North, ironically the core voters of Maroni’s party. In fact, the organisation got its financial boost to make itself on the same level or even better than the Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra, by kidnapping children and relatives of millionaires from the North for huge ransom sums of money. Most of these victims just ‘vanished’ either because their families failed to pay the ransom, or because they happened to see something they shouldn’t. A few were given back to their families after the ransom was paid. All of these had been severely physically abused and psychologically traumatised for life. In the last three decades only one person managed to escape. Unfortunately, probably out of fear, he was captured and sent back to the criminals by the people of Rosarno themselves.

The ransom money was in turn invested in massive drug trafficking where a kilogram of Cocaine is bought for €20 and sold more than douple that price for every single gramme. Most of these drugs were sold to rich adoloscents in the North, the same people Maroni claims to defend.

The ‘caccia al negro’ serves well for duping the people of Rosarno and let them vent their rage. A ‘caccia al Mafioso’ would not only be more horrible, but might also be the beginning of the fight against the N’drangheta.

In an intercepted conversation between two N’drangheta leaders one says “noi siamo il passato, il presente e il futuro” (we are the past, the present and the future). However, the other voice shows concern for the organisation “se la gente si ribella, noi siamo finiti” (if people revolt, it’s the end of us).

The words Maroni said show him as a racist. However, the words he failed to mention show an even more sinister side.