EU official reported ex-gay Christian for ‘conversion practices’

9 June 2023

The trial of an ex-gay Maltese Christian charity worker who faces criminal charges for allegedly discussing and advertising ‘conversion practices’ has begun in Valetta, Malta.

In a case, believed to be the first of its kind anywhere, Matthew Grech, 33, and the presenters of a local free speech media outlet, PMnews, potentially face five months in prison, and/or fined 5,000 euros for a media interview that took place in April 2022.

The outcome of this case will have ramifications for the ex-gay community, not just in Malta, but worldwide. It will also impact freedom of the press and anyone who wishes to publicly question and debate individuals leaving LGBT lifestyles, which activists describe as ‘conversion practices.’

EU official gives evidence

On Friday 9 June, in a hot and chaotic Maltese courtroom, Silvan Agius, who serves as a cabinet expert for EU Commissioner for Equality gave evidence on how and why he reported Mr Grech and the presenters to the police.

Agius, who previously served as head of the Human Rights and Integration Directorate in Malta, was involved with the criminalisation of conversion therapy in the country, which was the first in Europe to ban the practice in 2016.

When Mr Grech made headlines in his country in 2018 for telling his story as a contestant on X Factor Malta, Agius — whose current responsibilities as cabinet expert under Dalli include “inclusion, equality and non-discrimination” — called Grech’s comments “problematic.”

A clip of Grech on X Factor Malta was reportedly pulled from Facebook and YouTube in the country, and the television program later issued an apology for airing his views.

Agius — whose current responsibilities as cabinet expert under another Maltese EU official come LGBT activist, Helen Dalli, include “inclusion, equality and non-discrimination” — called Grech’s comments on X-Factor Malta “problematic.”

Giving evidence before Monica Vella, the magistrate presiding over the case, Mr Agius was asked why he had reported Mr Grech to the police:

“My personal story and my friends,” Mr Agius replied, “I suffered a lot in my youth; in primary school; catholic youth. They did not love me.” He added that “In the EU I am an expert, I work for the equality of others.”

Asked how he had found out about Matthew Grech’s interview, he said: “My friends warned me. When someone sees something on the internet, people tell me.”

Continuing, Mr Agius commented on the interview saying: “The programme offends me deeply and it puts me down and many others whether they know it or not.”

Agius gave evidence that he believed PM News had given ‘too much space’ to Mr Grech to tell his story and promote his views and that he had said ‘nothing positive’ about the LGBT community.

Mr Agius added that it is ‘not permissible’ for anyone to say the term ‘ex-gay’ in Malta as it is like ‘a priest describing themselves as ‘ex-heterosexual’ and that discussing the ability to leave a homosexual lifestyle is ‘demoralising talk’ which should not be legal.

‘If you invite someone … you’re giving that person an advert’

Cynthia Chircop, an Malta Gay Rights Movement activist, also gave evidence and was asked how she knew about Mr Grech’s interview with PM News:

‘Silvan sent the news’, she replied.

Chricop was asked if she aware of an invitation to the show sent by PMNews, which she confirmed she was not.

“So if I invite you to a two-hour programme and give you a free hand to speak, even if I don’t agree with what you say, does that mean that I’m giving you advertising space,” Bezzina, lawyers for the reporters asked.

“If you invite someone to air his views, you’re giving that person an advert,” replied Chircop.

“We’re not living in a dictatorship,” rebutted the defence lawyer.

“Why are those persons [the journalists] guilty? For respecting his [Grech’s] freedom of speech, a right safeguarded by the Constitution,” the lawyer said.

“Did Grech say that every LGBTIQ person should resort to such therapies,” the lawyer asked.

“I honestly cannot recall,” replied Chircop.

The trial continues.

Find out more about Matthew Grech
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