The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

‘Civil disobedience is an important part of democracy’ – Graffiti activist Andre Callus

Jeremy Micallef Friday, 14 September 2018, 09:40 Last update: about 2 years ago

Cases of civil disobedience are an important part of democracy, Moviment Graffiti activist Andre Callus told the Malta Independent yesterday, a few hours after the movement protested at a Planning Authority hearing on a fuel station application.

Callus said that although the group was happy that the application was later rejected, the demonstration was about the authorities' refusal to implement the much-awaited fuel station policy.

"They have been saying they will implement it since January. When held a similar demonstration last April they said they would review it immediately."

"Five months have passed and nothing has changed," Callus stated, further adding that they (the Planning Authority) are taking people for a ride.

"The authorities themselves have admitted that the policy does not make sense, and instead of changing it they dragged their feet. Because of this, applications have kept coming in under the current policy."

The total size of the submitted applications stood at 5 times the size of the Floriana Granaries, and because the policy they themselves admitted is bad has not yet been changed, Callus explained, they now amount to 7 times the size.

The environmental activists had, for a time, successfully disrupted the meeting, blocking off the entrance and making enough noise for the meeting to stall.

In an attempt to come through the boardroom door when they originally arrived, the activists jostled with police and security personnel trying to get through, and some security personnel say others suffered some light scratches, however the police later physically dragged the activists out, dragging them along the floor and roughly pulling them outside leaving some activists with cuts and bruises. The activists were chanting against such fuel station applications being heard by the board prior to the f fuel station policy review's completion. The activists used drums and held placards.

After being dragged outside, the activists kept on protesting, and marched around the Planning Authority grounds before leaving.

The Planning Authority representatives had, prior to the police action, offered for the activists to go inside if they promised to remain quiet, and that they would be given the chance to air their objections. The activists, however, refused saying that this protest was the only real way for their voices to truly be heard. This was the second time activists disrupted a PA meeting over a fuel station application, objecting to them being heard until a new fuel station policy is in place.

After the activists left, the PA meeting resumed, and the board voted to reject the application.


What does the law state?

According to the criminal code with regards to public demonstrations - The Public Meetings Ordinance, Chapter 68, article 14 - if any seditious cries are uttered constituting a crime against the safety of the Government or against public peace - the police may disperse a public meeting.

Also, in Chapter 68, article 15 - should intimations fail to have effect the meeting may be dispersed by the use of force; it shall also be lawful to use force if no intimation can be made owing to revolt or opposition; and if any person refusing to obey the said intimations shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment from 3 days to 3 months.

Initially, the activists themselves, Callus admitted, tried to push their way into the meeting room before deciding to remain at the entrance to continue their protest. Although he alleges that the security used for e in response to keep them out, accusing one of the security guards of grabbing him by the neck.

What also transpired to be true is that the Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Authority Elizabeth Ellul did in fact invite the protesters into the meeting hall to voice their objections on this particular application.

They refused because "the point of the demonstration wasn't the fuel station itself, but that applications should stop until the new fuel station policy is implemented."

After they began protesting loudly at the entrance, he also admitted that the police told them to "stop and go outside" prior to using force to remove them. They responded to the initial warnings by informing the security that their goal was indeed to cause a disruption, and they did this because they've "come to the point where they ignore everyone", and they "left them no other option".

When it was pointed out that, as it states in the law, the police are fully within their right to use force after verbal warnings to disperse were not complied to Callus reiterated that "they had no reason to interrupt this protest".

"Throughout history, cases of civil disobedience, like the one we did ourselves, are an important part of democracy in extreme cases like these. Cases where we see our country being eradicated piece by piece."

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