The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Activist files constitutional case over removal of makeshift memorial to slain journalist

Monday, 24 September 2018, 14:08 Last update: about 4 months ago

Activist Manuel Delia has filed a constitutional case against Justice minister Owen Bonnici and the Director General responsible for public cleaning over the removal of the makeshift memorial to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in front of the law courts in Valletta.

In a constitutional application filed before the First Hall of the Civil Court, Delia says that on Saturday 15 September at around 10:30am he, together with other activists, had placed a banner consisting of the Maltese flag, the word “JUSTICE” and an image of Caruana Galizia-  on the hoarding which was covering the Great Siege Monument in Republic Street. At the same time a number of other persons had placed candles and other related objects before the makeshift memorial “as a call for justice to be done with regards to her murder and the persons whom she investigated.”

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The items were removed by around 2pm the same day and so Delia had filed a police report. It was whilst he was making this report, says the activist, that he was informed that it had been workers from the Cleansing and Maintenance department of the Ministry of Justice who had removed the banner, flowers, candles and other objects.

In the presence of police, Delia and his lawyers had called up the Director General of the particular section, Ramon Deguara, who confirmed that the objects had been taken by his employees. Delia’s lawyers had written to Deguara, requesting the immediate return of the banner, flowers, candles and other objects. The items were returned at the Valletta police station shortly afterwards.

The activists had then replaced the banner and other items at the hoarding covering the monument in preparation for an activity which was due to mark 11 months from the murder of Caruana Galizia, the next day.

During the evening of Saturday 15 September, Delia had filed an urgent request for a court injunction against the authorities who were responsible for the removal of the items. The court had ordered the notification of the injunction to the interested parties, but had not provisionally upheld it.

In view of the court’s failure to grant the injunction, Delia and a group of other people stood guard for the next night and day to avoid the memorial being removed again. At around 4 am on Sunday 16th, workers from the Cleansing and Maintenance Division had gone to the monument to remove the memorial, but had turned tail and left when they spotted the activists.

In the early hours of the following Tuesday and Wednesday however, workers from the Division had once again removed the items making up the memorial from in front of the Great Siege monument. After the Wednesday cleanup, the removed objects were deposited in the registry of courts instead of being returned.

Delia claims that the memorial was dismantled by government workers 17 times but that it was only after 15 September that he was able to confidently point his finger at the government employees, who are the responsibility of Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.

The application states that Delia felt he must proceed with this lawsuit because its was “clear that the procedure of issuing a prohibitory injunction against the defendant…is not going to be respected by the defendants…” leaving him “no alternative but to seek to safeguard his fundamental rights before the court.”

Delia is claiming a breach of his right to freedom of expression, reminding that the government may not agree with what it is he’s saying, but was still duty bound to protect his right to say it. In order to establish whether or not such a breach had taken place, he said, the court had to investigate whether there was State interference, whether this interference was legal, whether it was intentioned for a legitimate aim and whether it was necessary in a democratic society, he said.

The only reasons the banner could be removed, said the activist, were reasons of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, prevention of crime, protection of health and morals, protection of the reputation or rights of a third party, prevention of revelation of secret information and maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judicature.

As the defendants were not barred by a provisional court order from removing the shrine, there was nothing to stop them from doing it again, the application states. Delia asked the court to declare that his fundamental rights had been breached, including his right to an effective court remedy. He also requested the court to order the return of the items removed from the memorial and award pecuniary and moral damages for the breaches of his rights. The court was additionally asked to give the orders it saw fit to ensure that Delia’s fundamental rights were safeguarded and where possible, returned to the state they were before the violation.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Karol Aquilina, Therese Commodini Cachia, Eve Borg Costanzi and Paul Borg Olivier signed the court application.

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