Is Matthew Grech receiving a fair trial for ‘advertising conversion practices’?

23 June 2023

Dr Carys Moseley writes on the trial of Matthew Grech, who is being prosecuted for advertising ‘conversion therapy’

At the beginning of June, I attended the second hearing of the trial of Matthew Grech in Malta, accused of advertising conversion therapy on television.

This is a very important case which has international significance for Christian freedoms.

Police prosecution after tip-off from EU officials

Three prominent Maltese LGBT activists, two of whom are senior officials in the European Union, reported to the police a television interview featuring Matthew Grech. Silvan Agius is an expert in the cabinet for Equality, headed by Helena Dalli (former Maltese Minister for Equality), at the European Commission. The European Commission is the executive arm of the European Union. Christian Attard is a lawyer in the European Commission. Both Agius and Attard at one point helped run the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM). Cynthia Chircop, the third person to file a report with the police, currently runs it.

The incriminating interview took place on the 6 April 2022, on a small new online platform called PM News Malta. The two journalists who interviewed him were co-accused in the case, and were also present and represented in court. It was the police and not the three activists who brought the prosecution against Matthew Grech.

Core evidence not considered in courtroom

It was very strange that the video of the programme itself was not viewed in court by the presiding magistrate. Normally criminal trials require focusing primarily on the direct evidence of the alleged offence. Instead the prosecution was allowed to bring numerous witnesses to testify, giving only indirect and unverifiable evidence.

I would strongly encourage everyone concerned about this case to watch the entire programme with English subtitles here.

Discussion of talking therapy reframed as ‘advertising’

The hearing lasted for most of the day. In the afternoon Silvan Agius was called as a witness – in fact he was also cast as a ‘victim’. He claimed that the television presenters had, in inviting Matthew Grech to be interviewed, given him a platform to ‘advertise conversion practices’. The reason this claim was made was because the Maltese law banning ‘conversion practices’ prohibits advertising them. However, advertising was not defined in the law when it was first passed in 2016.

This January, Rebecca Buttigieg, the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms and Equality, announced an amendment to this law significantly stretching the meaning of ‘advertising conversion practices’ as follows:

“’Advertise’ means the publication, display, sharing, promotion, referral, circulation of, or authorisation to publish, display, share, promote, refer or circulate any material made by any means which indicates, or could reasonably be understood as indicating, that the person so advertising or authorising the advertising has engaged in conversion practices, or is favourably describing, endorsing or promoting conversion practices.”

Buttigieg emphasised that Malta is to host Europride this September, calling it “the largest gathering of love and diversity Malta has ever seen.” However, where is the love for ex-gays here? Why do they have to be silenced?

Retrospective use of amended law?

It seemed that Agius was trying to apply the new definition of advertising from 2023 retrospectively to the television programme broadcast in 2022. It is rather extraordinary for such a logical leap to be made in a criminal court.

Agius used to run MGRM with Gabi Calleja. In January 2023, Gabi Calleja told the press that the meaning of advertising was being amended in the law precisely because the police had not been able to respond to alleged violations. Gabi Calleja has form here, because in 2019 she was interviewed debating the topic with Matthew Grech. If interviewing amounts to ‘advertising conversion practices’, isn’t Gabi Calleja retrospectively guilty of aiding and abetting it?

How sincere is the claim of being offended?

These inconsistent attitudes on the part of MGRM activists undermine their self-portrayal as having complained to the police because they were offended by the television programme. Both Silvan Agius and Cynthia Chircop chose to watch the programme – it was not compulsory. Indeed, Cynthia Chircop only watched it three weeks after it was broadcast because Silvan Agius told her about it. They told the court they were deeply offended by it. Chircop said it brought back bad emotional memories from school. They both assumed that everybody else in Malta who experiences same-sex attraction and gender confusion would feel the same as they did.

The court learnt that Silvan Agius had never met Matthew Grech. It seems odd that in a small nation such as Malta, with a population of only half a million, he had never tried to speak to him. This suggests that Matthew Grech isn’t the only target of this case.

Who is the real target?

It is evident to those of us who are following this case closely who the real target is here. The real target is the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC). Matthew Grech was wrongly described by Silvan Agius as a Maltese national representative of the organisation.

However the fact that he is linked to the IFTCC is relevant. The IFTCC works with people from European countries and elsewhere. It is therefore well-placed to oppose the censorship and capture of public institutions that activists such as MGRM promote internationally.

Denial of the existence of ex-gays

Key claims made by Silvan Agius amounted to blanket denial. For example he told the court that ‘ex-gay is not a term’, and that ‘nobody’ calls themselves that. This simply is not true, as extensive press and social media coverage for many years shows.

Agius complained that IFTCC says transgender people are ‘gender confused’. However he did not point to specific evidence, nor did he admit that people come voluntarily for help precisely because they are confused as to who they are.

Agius and Chircop complained that Grech allegedly said nothing positive about LGBTQ people, implying they are sad. Again, they did not bother to point out that Grech is speaking about people who experience same-sex attraction and gender confusion as unwanted.

Is the Maltese government trying to censor Matthew Grech?

It is also highly significant that despite being the main defendant in the case, Matthew Grech has not been interviewed once by the Maltese press since March. It is very likely that this is due to journalists being too afraid to interview him now that the definition of ‘advertising conversion practices’ has been stretched. Their interviews may now be reported to the police as instances of ‘advertising’.

This is despite the fact that the court has not proven that either Matthew Grech or the IFTCC are involved in ‘conversion practices’. Given that the law was passed and amended by the Maltese government, we must ask whether the Maltese government is deliberately trying to censor Matthew Grech.

We must ask whether there is an attempt to make of this case a legal precedent across the European Union, given that Silvan Agius effectively runs the latter’s equality policies.

Is this a fair trial?

I came away from this busy and intense court hearing asking myself whether this is a fair trial for Matthew Grech. The reason is that the core evidence which led to the prosecution being brought was not presented in court. Instead, a string of witnesses was brought in to testify. Not only that but the media coverage is deeply inadequate for the reasons explained above. How many people in Malta understand that this may not be a fair trial?

The next hearing will be held in July, and there may well be at least one other hearing after that. We must continue to pray that justice will be served in this case, and that the magistrate will consider all the relevant evidence directly.

Find out more about Matthew Grech
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