How much body exposure is criminal in Malta?

As per Malta's Criminal Code, someone who "exposes himself/herself naked or is indecently dressed” can be punished by imprisonment of up to three months and receive a fine. But what does "indecent" mean?

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
How much body exposure is criminal in Malta? - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

Even though Malta has been voted as a leading tourist destination in various listicles, tourists are arrested and charged for indecent exposure here every year. Their names, nationalities, and -- if you search for the court PDF documents -- their ID card numbers are published online.

Most people who end up in court are non-Maltese, suggesting that locals either intuitively understand the rules or know how not to get caught.

But how is a visitor or a recent immigrant supposed to find out about the rules of decency?

It is not merely about cultural difference. In Malta, indecent exposure is a criminal offence, with possible jail time of up to three months. Various signs at beaches warn against topless sunbathing, but other rules, such as no sunbathing in a bikini near fountains, are determined case-by-case.

As a young woman who used to live in Malta told Eve, a lifestyle news site, it was once enough for her to untie her bikini straps when lying on a beach for the police to approach her. Needless to say, this type of policing has a deeply gendered bias.

Details from the story:

  • A number of individuals are charged with indecent exposure every year. This year, for example, a tourist was sentenced for being naked in public, and a young woman who decided to sunbathe on the Triton Fountain in Valletta, wearing a bikini, was approached by three police officers immediately.
  • Article 338 of the Criminal Code stipulates: “Every person is guilty of a contravention against public order, who […] (q) in the harbours, on the seashore or in any other public place, exposes himself naked or is indecently dressed.” As stated in article 209, an offence against decency or morals can be punished by imprisonment up to three months and a fine.
  • The police internal guidelines require reacting to reports of shirtless men or women wearing a bikini top with only a skirt or shorts.
  • In the court case Il-Pulizija vs Lorraine Falzon (2007), the court affirmed that the understanding of decent clothing is subjective, and judgements must take into account the timing, environment and other factors.
  • Malta is not the only tourist destination trying to set decency rules. Barcelona famously banned swimwear on the streets in 2011. But threats of jail time for transgression are not very common.
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