As Parliament speeds through the second reading of the medical marijuana bill that would allow foreign companies to come to Malta to grow, manufacture, and sell cannabis products, a father with no kidneys languishes in prison on trumped up charges of trafficking the exact same plant.
This follows his previous court case being deferred as well.
The lack of seriousness with which this terribly ill man is being treated boggles the mind.
From politicians passing the buck to the judiciary stalling his sentencing as much as possible through constant appeals and deferrals, one gets the sense that this is not an ordinary case.
Indeed, one look at the case of Christopher Bartolo shows an incredible cruel and inhumane treatment of this Maltese father of two – and this treatment will leave a dark stain on the current administration’s legacy, one that will be remembered for years to come.
The man was caught with 167g of cannabis – AKA one weekend at Snoop Dogg’s studio – after he started using the plant to help him cope with his double kidney failure.
From all the multiple ways to deal with this “crime”, if you want to call a guy with some weed a criminal, they decided to interrogate him without a lawyer and tried to paint him as some big drug kingpin.
This is not a new tactic. They did the same to Daniel Holmes.
Madam Justice Jacqueline Padovani Grima had ruled in a previous appeal that Mr Bartolo’s rights were breached when he was interrogated in a vulnerable state, without a lawyer.
But apart from that, the judiciary seems dead set on coming down hard on anything and everything related to cannabis.
Maybe it is the mandatory minimum sentences, or indeed, a lack of knowledge on what cannabis really is, but the Maltese judiciary lacks the ability to functionally and justly judge as soon as someone says the word “ħaxixa”.
Their entire job, everything they are trained for, is to be able to see nuances and shades of grey in complicated cases.
But for the Maltese courts, it’s all black and white – and for them, Christopher Bartolo is A Bad Hombre.
Unfortunately, the more this case is pointed out to be inhumane, the more the authorities double down on their condemnation of him.
Fortunately, members of the Opposition are starting to pick up on the fact that this is a case of inhumane treatment.
Leader of the Opposition Adrian Delia personally invited Mr Bartolo’s family to his office, and ex-Minister Jason Azzopardi publicly asked: “Why all this reluctance to do the right thing?”
Why all the reluctance? Well, look at the people controlling Mr Bartolo’s fate.
Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri was the judge that had originally refused to grant bail to Mr Bartolo.
Even though Mr Bartolo is a man with who has no kidneys, needs dialysis treatment three times a week for 6 hours, and has two kids in Gozo, the Chief Justice refused to grant bail partly due to the possibility of Mr Bartolo fleeing the country.
Mr Bartolo is due to reappear in front of the Chief Justice to confirm his latest appeal after Mr Bartolo’s lawyers decided not to ask for the Chief Justice’s recusal.
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had told Lovin Malta without reservation: “I will not be dragging my feet on this case.”
That was in December, 2017.
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who the special bail request is actually addressed to, has said she is powerless to decide the bail for herself.
This is true, and she needs a recommendation from either the Justice Minister or the Cabinet to grant bail.
However, her role as Head of State and the moral authority that she represents should not be discounted.
Publicly saying she believes Mr Bartolo should be given bail until his case is reassessed could make all the difference to his family and his two children who dream of seeing their father at home again.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat may not be directly implicated in this case, but he wasn’t directly implicated in the William Agius case either, and he stepped in there.
While it is commendable that the Prime Minister of the nation stepped in when he felt that there was an injustice occurring in that case, it could be argued that there are few people more in need of his attention than Christopher Bartolo, the terminally ill, unjustly condemned prisoner.
At least we’ll have the Canadian corporations here though, right?