A Christian charity worker is facing criminal charges for allegedly promoting "conversion practices" in his own country during an online interview about how he chose to leave his former homosexual lifestyle after finding salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) reports it is representing Matthew Grech who faces up to five months in prison and almost $5,500 in fines if convicted.
The faith-based nonprofit law firm called Grech's case "the first-ever prosecution for 'conversion practices' in Malta."
His trial is scheduled for Feb. 3 at the Court of Magistrates in Valletta along with the hosts of a local free speech media outlet, PMnews Malta.
His Crime? He Shared His Testimony Online
Grech is a trustee of Core Issues Trust which works closely with the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice and X-Out-Loud.
His legal problem began after he told his "ex-gay" testimony during an online interview, that was advertised on Facebook.
During the media interview, he shared his story about his childhood and the confusion he had experienced when it came to his own sexuality and relationships. He spoke about how, as an adult, he had been involved in homosexual relationships before becoming a Christian, which changed his life dramatically.
Grech spoke about how he does not agree with the term "conversion therapy" and said that the deeper he went into his Christian faith and exploring the Bible, the more "I understood that in the Bible, homosexuality is not an identity as we make it nowadays. And neither is it a feeling, but a practice."
"This means that no matter what sexual feelings a man or a woman is experiencing if they have sexual relations with a person of the same sex, they commit the homosexual act in God's eyes, and that is a sin," he explained. "Just like every other sin, one can repent from it and ask God for forgiveness and ask Him for strength to overcome… I'm talking here from a Christian perspective…"
At no point during the interview did Grech invite any listener to attend therapy or encourage anyone to get help for unwanted same-sex attraction. This is backed up by a transcript from PMnews Malta.
After the interview, police pressed criminal charges against him for allegedly advertising conversion practices. The prosecution order he received accused him of advertising "conversion practices" and violating "article 3 ( a ) ( iii ) of Chapter 567 of Maltese laws."
Article 3 of Malta's draconian Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Gender Expression Act, states:
"It shall be unlawful (a) for any person to: (i) perform conversion practices on a vulnerable person; or (ii) perform involuntary and, or forced conversion practices on a person; or (iii) advertise conversion practices; and, or (b) for a professional to: (i) offer and, or perform conversion practices on any person irrespective of whether compensation is received in exchange; or (ii) make a referral to any other person to perform conversion practices on any person."
The two PMnews Malta hosts are also facing a similar charge, according to the CLC.
'Determined to Stamp Out Any Debate'
Grech believes he is being targeted by members of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, who think that Christian beliefs on marriage and human identity, and any debate surrounding LGBT lifestyles, should be treated as a criminal offense.
The 33-year-old who has never before been involved with the police, said: "I was shocked when the police called me out of the blue and said they were summoning me for interrogation."
"The outlet I appeared on is a very small and emerging free-speech platform in Malta, and I didn't think it would be treated so seriously by the Malta Gay Rights Movement to the extent that I could be criminalized for telling my Christian testimony," Grech said. "It shows how determined they are to stamp out any debate or voice on these issues. I was worried for myself and what my family would think, as nothing like this has happened to me before."
"I am determined however, to raise awareness on the danger and harm that 'conversion therapy' bans are and will cause, not just to churches and society in Malta, but all around the world," he explained.
"I am committed to keep sharing my testimony because I don't want other men and women to go through what I went through in my upbringing and adolescence. I don't want them to be victims of unwanted sexual feelings. I don't want them to be robbed of the biblical side of the story around sex, sexuality and marriage. I don't want the masses to believe 'born gay, cannot change', and allow that to go unchallenged," he said.
"The 'conversion therapy' ban is creating an ideological domino effect. The lobbies and gay rights movements behind them take a single moral viewpoint around human sexuality and enforce it on the entire population. It causes legal confusion, and it discourages journalists from exploring the other side of the story," Grech continued.
Freedom of the Press on the Line
CLC attorneys say the freedom of the press in Malta is on the line, and that anyone who wants help for unwanted same-sex attraction, which is a protected characteristic, will be suppressed and driven underground.
The attorneys argue the charges against Grech violate his Fundamental Human Right to Freedom of Expression safeguarded under Article 41 of the Constitution of Malta and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
They will argue to the court that under Human Rights legislation derived from Malta's obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the free speech rights guaranteed by its own Constitution, he had every right to freely share and express his story and views on unwanted same-sex attraction.
Grech's attorneys also disagree with the allegation made by the police that he had "advertised conversion practices." At no point in his interview did Grech direct the viewers and listeners to a counselor, therapist or a counseling entity that would break Malta's laws.
In a statement, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the CLC, said: "Criminalizing someone for telling their story of freedom and change from unwanted and unfulfilling sexual behaviors is discriminatory and violates their Christian freedoms and fundamental human right to free speech."
"The domino effect of 'conversion therapy' bans began in Malta. If a precedent is set by this case in Malta we will see similar cases in the UK unless, unless robust action is taken," she explained.
First EU Country to Ban 'Conversion Therapy'
Malta became the first country in the European Union to ban what LGBT lobbies describe as 'conversion therapy' in 2016. Other nations then followed suit, such as the UK and Australia, using the original Maltese legislation as a blueprint for similar bans.
In the U.S., a total of 25 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 100 municipalities have banned the practice of conversion therapy on minors.
Since facing prosecution, Grech has warned that something similar "will soon be happening in the UK and other countries across the world."