The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

Libel suit: Activists say they did not jeer Special Olympics athletes during Republic Day parade

Wednesday, 12 February 2020, 13:37 Last update: about 13 days ago

Civil society activist and blogger Manuel Delia has told a court that an article published by One News, alleging that people attending “violent protests” in Valletta last December had jeered at athletes from the Special Olympics as they entered the Palace of the President on their way to receive a medal for service to the republic, was to his knowledge, complete fiction.

The story run by the Labour media outlet said that “On Republic Day, it was not only the police and members of the Armed Forces who landed the insults whilst carrying out their duties,” but also participants in the Special Olympics who “happened to be entering the Palace of the President to receive their medal.”

Describing the protests as “violent” and alleging that stones and coins were thrown at cars in the “assaults on the Parliament building and the Auberge de Castille” the One News article stated that “it was not only the police and members of the Armed Forces who bore the brunt of insults during the performance of their duties. But also the athletes from the Special Olympics who happened to be entering the Palace of the President, where they were going to receive a medal for their service to the republic.”

Delia had subsequently filed for libel against Jason Micallef, as Executive Chairman, Ruth Vella, as Broadcasting Executive Group Head and Owen Galea, as Head of News and Current Affairs at One Productions Ltd.

Although it is not contested that protesters had booed, jeered and whistled as a military parade and President George Vella passed by during the annual Republic Day celebrations, Delia and other witnesses denied even seeing any Special Olympics athletes on the day. “On that day I saw no person who could fit that description,” Delia told magistrate Rachel Montebello this afternoon. Asked by his lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona whether he had seen any of the reported violence, he replied in the negative. “I saw no violence, throwing of stones or coins or intimidation. I saw nobody doing this and crucially, I did not do this.”

From 7am to the end of the parade Delia and those with him had not seen any persons with a disability, he insisted. “This is a manifest lie, intended to discredit me because I was identified as one of the leaders of the protest.” The photo accompanying the article was not of the crowd or something that lends credence to the story, but a photo of Delia was taken and placed under the title, he said.

Delia added that the article had led to him being harangued in public as a result. “Micallef is an officer of the state and used all means at his disposal to discredit me and the protestors. I found myself being insulted in the street because of it.”

Answering a question by the court Delia repeated that “absolutely no persons fitting the description of special Olympics athletes passed near my position.”

Lawyer Paul Borg Olivier also took the stand before magistrate Rachel Montebello. Asked about the 13 December rally in Republic Street, he identified himself in a photo. “I was somehow near Manuel Delia,” he said.

“The dignitaries in Republic street were just the Brigadier and the President. At no point, neither before nor after the ceremony, did I see civilians pass by, much less disabled persons assisted by third parties. Not even the invited ministers and MPs were passing through that area,” Borg Olivier said.

Defence lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona testified that he was also present for the demonstration, “walking at the back of the crowd.” Under the arches of the National Library there was a door for VIPs to enter. I did not see any disabled athletes enter there either,” he said.

Borg Cardona said he had seen the programme of events which stated that special Olympics athletes would be present, however he said he saw no civilians in the parade area. “From what I could see, there were no civilians, other than plainclothes policemen part of the president’s security detail…I saw nobody.”

The case continues on March 18

Lawyers Pawlu Lia and Phyllis Aquilina are representing Micallef in the proceedings.  

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