a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of media.
Freedom of Expression: It is a criminal offense to “commit an offence against decency or morals, by any act committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public.” The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion, or belief, or political or other opinion. Conviction of incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Members of the press and civil society expressed concerns regarding the impact of defamation lawsuits on journalistic freedom and the editorial independence of media (see Libel/Slander Laws below).
Violence and Harassment: In 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of investigative journalist Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. On February 23, one of the accused, Vince Muscat, pled guilty to all charges, including murder, and was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay court expenses. The other two charged, brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, were awaiting trial at year’s end.
On August 18, prosecutors filed a bill of indictment charging business magnate Yorgen Fenech with the murder of Caruana Galizia. Fenech entered a not guilty plea. In 2019 police arrested Fenech as a “person of interest” in the killing, charging him with criminal conspiracy, being an accomplice in Caruana Galizia’s murder, and conspiring to commit murder. Fenech denied the charges. The murder investigation continued at year’s end (also see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).
Libel/Slander Laws: Print and broadcast journalists may face government lawsuits intended to harass and intimidate them. At the time of her death, Caruana Galizia faced more than 40 civil and criminal defamation suits due to her investigative reporting and commentary on public figures linking them to acts of corruption and other malfeasance.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
On June 8, six asylum seekers from Bangladesh successfully challenged their detention in court after authorities detained them beyond the period permissible by law. The court ordered their immediate release and called on authorities to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In July authorities arraigned a Maltese citizen on charges of grievous bodily harm during an assault on a male Somali irregular migrant. In September prosecutors charged a building contractor with grievous bodily harm of a Ghanaian migrant worker and 19 other charges, including violation of employment and health and safety laws. The worker was reportedly an irregular migrant who suffered a serious injury at the worksite but was denied medical assistance and abandoned. The trial continued at year’s end.
Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.
In some cases immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention, which are also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety.
Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and may be extended by a further 12 months.
Following an ad hoc visit to detention facilities in September 2020, on March 10, the CPT reported that living conditions, regimes, lack of due process safeguards, treatment of vulnerable groups, and some specific COVID-19 pandemic measures taken by authorities may have constituted inhuman and degrading treatment (also see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions.).
Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few individuals chose to participate.
Durable Solutions: Between January and June, 14 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to become naturalized citizens. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection – the majority of asylum seekers – are not allowed to do so. From January to August, 27 migrants sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts continued to move slowly, since migrants generally tended to stay close to reception centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low-skill sectors. On September 7, Mayor Josef Azzopardi of Marsa expressed concern that Marsa, where the Initial Reception Center is located, lacked a successful integration policy.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to June, authorities granted subsidiary protection to 78 persons.