An off-duty Maltese bus driver has been charged after physically attacking two lesbian fellow passengers, reportedly for kissing.
The incident comes amid public discussion on the island over the introduction of hate crime laws to protect gay and transgender citizens.
Driver Marco Borg, 43, was charged on Saturday with causing injury and disrupting public order.
While there is no further penalty for homophobic motivation under current laws, the Times of Malta reports that Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has instructed Justice Minister Chris Said to work on amendments to laws to prevent hate crimes.
In footage of the incident filmed by another passenger, the driver in charge of the bus at the time is seen restraining Borg after he attacked the two women, aged 21 and 17, last Friday.
Bus company Arriva said he had been let go, adding that is had “a zero tolerance policy when it comes to violence of any sort and would like to make it very clear that it condemns categorically and without reserve not only this incident but indeed any bullish, violent and other such reproachable and anti-social behaviour”.
“Moreover, the bus operator wants to make it absolutely clear that it has a very clear and open diversity policy which all employees are bound to respect.”
In an interview with Malta’s Sunday Times, the girl said two men, who were later arrested, had called her and her girlfriend “twisted” before attacking them, leaving her with bruises and facial injuries.
Cyrus Engerer, a spokesman for LGBT Labour in Malta said state intervention would be necessary to tackle anti-gay incidents.
He told Malta Today: “It’s not possible for a mentality of a country to change if the laws of that same country remain unchanged.”
But the introduction of special hate crime laws are opposed by some.
Lawyer and opinion writer Claire Bonello told the Times of Malta: “It makes little sense to punish the different motives of a crime when the end result is the same – injury to the victim …
“If a person is attacked because the aggressor feels some sort of personal animosity towards the victim, why should that attack be punished less severely than one where the aggressor hates the victim because of the latter’s religious affiliation or belonging to a minority group?
“The whole notion of hate crimes does away with the concept of equality in the eyes of the law.”
At a press conference today, Malta Today reports Prime Minister Gonzi saying the government will include homophobia in hate crime laws in future: “We are sending a message to society in general, not to pass judgement of people, and that we expect the forces of law to enforce laws and eliminate all forms of discrimination.”