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Our View: Court should have given police benefit of the doubt on riot suspects

Photo: Free Times Media Ltd

What started out as a peaceful protest march by youths against the measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 and 5G networks turned violent as some of the demonstrators started throwing flares, stones and petrol bombs at police and set rubbish bins on fire. Five policemen were injured in violence as was a firefighter who was hit on the head with a stone after the vehicle he was in was ambushed by the hooded hooligans.

According to most reports the march had been joined by the organised troublemakers who donned hoods and ski masks when they decided to go on the rampage. The peaceful marchers were not wearing the mandatory face mask, said the police, who arrested seven youths aged between 15 and 21 and were looking for another two suspects.

The seven youths appeared in court on Thursday but the police’s requests for remand orders were rejected on the grounds that the police did not have enough evidence linking the youths to the riot. What evidence did the judge want? Pictures of the youths hurling petrol bombs? Even if there were pictures, it would not be evidence as the rioters were wearing hoods and ski masks. In short, for the court, there was no way the police could link any youth to the riot that would justify a remand order.

Is it possible the judge feared the police had picked up youths at random to show that they had made arrests? Although this possibility cannot be completely ruled out, the judge could have given the police the benefit of the doubt, if only to show that the violence would not be tolerated and the courts would assist the police in clamping down on troublemakers. Remanding youths for two or three days would not be a miscarriage of justice, while it could have helped the police gather some information about the rioters.

Justice and public order minister Emily Yioliti’s tweet, “zero tolerance of such criminal behaviour,” had a hollow ring after the court decision. What “zero tolerance” is there when the police cannot even have remand orders issued against people suspected of being involved in the rioting? On the contrary, it gives out the message, rightly or wrongly, that when a hooded troublemaker pelts the police with stones, flares and petrol bombs and runs away, he would not suffer any consequences even if he is subsequently caught. The court would not even permit the questioning of the suspect, on the grounds that the police could not link him to the violence.

How there would be zero tolerance when the courts cannot even issue a remand order to help the police investigation, we do not know.

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