The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

Repubblika accused of breaching NGO law; says this is attempt at silencing it

Saturday, 6 March 2021, 16:56 Last update: about 2 months ago

Civil society group Repubblika has been accused of breaching NGO laws by “instigating political progaganda” by the Commission of Voluntary Organisations.

The group has hit back, accusing the Commission of trying to silence it and warning it to expect "the strongest possible resistance" to any attempt to take the matter further.

The Commission, through its lawyer, said that Repubblika was acting in breach of the law and its statute with regard to funding and the sources it uses to fund its activities.

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It also said the NGO had “a strong element of private interest in the running of operations” and was being run more like a foundation than a voluntary organisation.

It added that Repubblika was also breaching the law by being “highly involved in political matters” and by “instigating a political propaganda and publicity”. It pointed to articles published in newspapers as well as the role of the NGO in the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The commission called on the group to amend its statute or face legal proceedings.

In a letter sent in reply, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina insisted that the NGO was being run in an “entirely normal” way and was surely not in breach of the law.

When the lawyer had examined the statute in 2019, he said, nothing untoward had been pointed out by the commission.

“Nothing has changed since then except for, apparently, your determination to use an interpretation that is stretched beyond snapping point in an attempt to suppress us in the performance of our democratic duty,” Aquilina wrote. 

The commission had also not found anything wrong when it examined Repubblika’s accounts last year, he added.

On the accusation that the group was in breach of the law because of political activities, Aquilina said: “This assertion is entirely gratuitous and unfounded in fact and at law. To be clear: Repubblika is not a political party, it is not controlled by a political party and it does not militate in favour of a political party.”

“Repubblika is made up of people who have opinions they are willing to express. If as a result this causes displeasure to people in political authority, this is the latter’s problem. Such an activity is not a crime or a breach of any law, neither that governing civil society organisations nor any other. On the contrary, the activity of expressing oneself freely about political matters is a fundamental human right and it is your duty as a state official to ensure that it is protected to the fullest extent. Instead you seek to suppress it. It is a function of democratic life for civil society organisations to call out wrongdoing in government conduct and to do so freely. Any law that is written or applied with the purpose of. or used to suppress that function is unconstitutional and in breach of the fundamental human rights of anyone who functions within and through such organisations.”

Criticising the government is not a function that is reserved only to political parties, he said.

Aquilina said that attributing partisan political motivation to anyone else who dares criticise the government “is unacceptable and nothing short of an attack on freedom of association and freedom of expression”. 

“Your position, being unfounded at law, is therefore anti-democratic, abusive and unacceptable and you are invited to revise this position or face the appropriate reaction,” Aqulina said.

 

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