Photo: Rachel Micallef Somerville
Tony Zarb, a consultant to tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, has apologised for a crude Facebook post describing women activists as prostitutes and has pledged to stop spreading his personal opinions on the social media network.
However, Andrea Dibben and Maria Pisani- the two activists who had addressed a protest outside Castille last night – have filed a police complaint against Zarb for inciting hate speech, a crime in Maltese law which carries a maximum 18-month imprisonment term.
Dibben is being legally represented by the Women’s Rights Foundation (which she is chairperson of), while Pisani is being represented by the human rights NGO Aditus.
Zarb, a former secretary-general of the General Workers’ Union, caused outrage last night when he described women activists who had camped outside Castille as prostitutes, assassins and traitors.
The women had gathered outside Castille to pile pressure on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to fire the police commissioner and Attorney General in the wake of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Following a backlash, Zarb deleted his controversial status and issued a public apology to “genuine women who might not have liked what I had written”.
He later said he has decided to stop writing his personal opinions on Facebook out of respect to his family, who had been targeted by hot-blooded critics.
“The forces of darkness have dictated that I don’t have the right to exercise my freedom of expression,” he said.
The personal attacks were flagged by Zarb’s son – music producer Elton Zarb – who said that, while he disagreed with his father’s choice of words, this is no way excused people who had responded by insulting his mother as a prostitute.
Andrea Dibben, who chairs the Womens’ Rights Foundation, told Lovin Malta she filed a police report against Zarb this morning.
“I wasn’t exactly surprised when I read Zarb’s status because I’ve grown used to having people calling me a slut and a whore whenever I speak out in public – be it on the morning after pill or domestic violence,” she said. “However, it is shocking that such misogyny can still be found in Malta and the fact that Zarb is a public person makes it even more serious.”
“I expect an apology from the state, condemnation from [civil liberties minister] Helena Dalli and [parliamentary secretary for reforms] Julia Farrugia Portelli, and disciplinary action against Zarb. If no action is taken against Tony Zarb, who holds a public post, then it will truly mean we are living in a culture of impunity.”
Julia Farrugia Portelli had already condemned and disassociated herself from Zarb’s status.
Dibben dismissed Zarb’s apology as a “non-apology”, questioning whether the consultant considers her a “genuine woman” or not.
She added that his Facebook status adds further weight to declarations by Maltese womens’ rights organisations that prostitution is exploitative against women.