The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

Our protest will stop once what we are protesting about happens, activists tell judge

Friday, 30 November 2018, 16:46 Last update: about 11 days ago

The setting up of a spontaneous memorial to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia at the foot of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta was connected to the monument’s location opposite the court building.

This emerged from today’s hearing of the case filed by blogger Manuel Delia against Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and cleansing department director-general Ramon Deguara.

The case is being heard by Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon and concerns the removal of banners, flowers and candles from the foot of the Great Siege monument in Valletta, which has become a rallying place since Caruana Galizia's murder.

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Notary and civil society activist Robert Aquilina, taking the witness stand, told the court that after the murder, he and others decided to group together and start organising protests, which are still being held on a monthly basis.

“The aim of the protests is to raise a level of consciousness amongst the Maltese people on what we consider to be a crisis,” he told the court, “…We have seen delinquency taking over in Malta. This is very serious to us.”

He said the protest in front of the Great Siege Monument started spontaneously, but it also had some thinking behind it, in that it was located in front of the law courts, and was in a public place.

“But if the monument were somewhere else, we would still have protested in front of the law courts,” he said.

He later went on to clarify that the symbolisation of the monument also did not conflict with the message of the protestors.

But if the monument were about something which was incompatible with the protesters’ message, they would not have created the memorial before it.

Asked by Justice Zammit McKeon when the activists planned their memorial protest to end, Aquilina said no specific date had been determined.

“Our protest will stop once what we are protesting about happens– that justice is done in connection with the Caruana Galizia murder, and secondly that the very serious allegations made by the journalist about government officials are investigated.”

Maria Grazia Cassar, Din l-Art Helwa president, was next to give testimony. She told the court that her organisation was responsible for identifying monuments in need of restoration and engaging people to carry out the work.

She said that in 2010 they had been charged with coordinating the restoration of the Great Siege Monument. Amongst the work done at the time was a cleansing of the monument, the removal of biological growth and the application of anti-corrosion coating.

Asked by the judge whether any restoration work had taken place after 2010, Cassar said she wasn’t aware of any.

She said that, after flowers and candles started being placed on the monument, she had commented that these objects would, in Din l-Art Helwa’s opinion, not cause any damage to the monument itself.

“This is because the flowers were placed on the monument’s base not on the structure itself. Flowers are often placed on monuments.”

“Would it make a difference if the flowers are only placed on certain occasions, or if they are a permanent fixture, in terms of causing any damage?” the judge asked.

“No, I don’t think so, because the objects are being placed on its plinth,” Cassar replied.

Lawyer Chris Cilia, appearing for the cleansing department, asked in Din l-Art Helwa, had, in the course of the NGOs bi-weekly committee meetings, ever discussed taking up an official position regarding the memorial, with Cassar saying she wasn’t sure about this.

“I discussed it on the phone with my colleagues. I probably mentioned it in the meetings, but I have to check.”

Pressed on whether the NGO felt the need to discuss the monument, she said she couldn’t remember if the matter was talked about during the meetings.

The case was adjourned to 14 January.

 

Manuel Delia affidavit

The court today also received an affidavit submitted by Delia – who wasn’t present in court – where he detailed the sequence of events related to the makeshift memorial to Caruana Galizia, starting from when flowers and photos where first placed in front of the Great Siege monument in Valletta by the murdered journalist's sons the day after she was killed in a car bomb explosion.

He recounted the number of times when the memorial was removed, including describing having written to the Police Commissioner informing him of an incident where government workers had removed a banner and other objects from the memorial.

In the affidavit, Delia went on to say that the memorial had been created spontaneously during a “severely painful and emotional time”, immediately after the assassination.

Delia said that many people saw in the site a way for them to protest without being at risk of any consequences. "These are people who are afraid to speak up in public or to be seen attending protests."

The mourning aspect of the memorial forms only a small element of the protest he said. The protest is necessary for civil reasons: the need for justice to take place, the need for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs freely, and the need for the institutions to act when such journalists uncover corruption.

"These demands need to be made in a space open to the public," he emphasised.

He highlighted that the Great Siege Monument itself wasn't of particular relevance to the protest, despite the discussions which had taken place about the link between what it symbolises, and the protestors’ demands that the rule of law be upheld.

Delia, however, confirmed what Aquilina said in his testimony, underlining that the location of the monument and its centrality was of relevance.

“The fact that is it in front of the law court is fundamental,” he said.

The blogger also drew parallels between the memorial in Valletta and the one set up on the bridge close to the Kremlin in Moscow, demanding justice for the 2015 killing of Russian anti-government politician Boris Nemtsov. “Here, too, the government tried to remove the memorial – 192 times, I’m informed.”

Delia said that there wasn't the desire for the protest to be permanent and that those involved were impatient that their requests be satisfied as soon as possible, so that they could continue with their lives.

"But they will not let others, especially those who are the subjects of the protest, to decide when it should end," the affidavit added.

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